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Tag: ballet

English National Ballet’s MANON Review

English National Ballet’s MANON Review

Arriving at the beautiful Opera House in Manchester, you can’t help but notice that the Grade II listed building is perfect for hosting such an opulent and decadent production such as Manon, with it’s hunters green upholstery and gold brocade accents. It truely sets the scene for the ensuing scenes of early 18th century France.

Kenneth MacMillan’s production premiered in 1974 and uses scores by Jules Massenet, although not from his Opera, rather using his other well know works. Manon is based on the novel, Manon Lescaut, by Abbe Prevost. The novel was actually banned in France at the time due to its scandalous, controversial and explicit details! It did however prove to be incredibly popular, with pirate copies being widely distributed. I wonder what they would have thought to 50 Shades?!

English-National-Ballet-Manon-c-Laurent-Liotardo
English National Ballet Manon – Laurent Liotardo

The curtain rises on ACT 1 to unveil a scene at The Courtyard at the Inn. We are immediately drawn to the differences in the classes. The present folk are disheveled and dirty, dressed in rags, with their hearty and robust allegro and vigorous, almost out of control pirouettes. They convey a light hearted, fun filled demeanour. This is in stark contrast to the gentry and aristocrats who also visit the Inn. Their costumes of rich, heavy embroidered velvets, corsets, frills and pleats, adds to their grandeur presence. Such restrictive clothing exaggerates their straight, nose in the air posture. Their choreography was bold and regal, proudly displaying like peacocks but always maintaining absolute control and pose. We are introduced to Lescaut  who is awaiting the arrival of his sister Manon, before her departure to a convent. Lescaut – played by Jefferey Ciriotis with his good friend Des Grieux – Joseph Caley , a penniless student. Manon’s arrival attracts the attention of everyone, including that of weathly Monsieur GM – James Streeter

Jeffrey-Cirio-in-Manon-c-Laurent-Liotardo-1
Jeffrey Cirio in Manon – Laurent Liotardo

Manon – Alina Cjocaru – and Des Grieux  have a chance meeting and it’s love at first sight. At first Manon is coy but relents to her feelings. The pas de deux has a beautiful quality to it. The choreography is light and fluid with seemingly gravity defying lifts, echoing those wonderful feelings of walking on air and butterflies experienced with a new relationship. They hatch a plan to run away to Paris together. Whilst Des Grieux goes to post a letter to his uncle, Lescaut arrives with Monsieur, who has promised Manon to him for a tidy sum. Initially Manon  resists Monsieur’s advances but she is easily swayed by gifts or fur coats and diamonds. The pas de trois between these 3 characters is wonderfully creative. Manon is passed between the 2 men, like a toy. She snakes her way around Monsieur with imaginative lifts. It is clear that Monsieur sees her as a trophy, something to be glorified and lusted over. he displays infatuation more than love and Manon enjoys the power she yeilds over him, using it to her advantage. Lescaut is compliant and convinces his sister to leave with Monsieur. She looks back one last time before being escorted away.

Alina-Cojocaru-and-Joseph-Caley-in-Manon-c-Laurent-Liotardo
Alina Cojocaru and Joseph Caley in Manon (c) Laurent Liotardo

ACT 2 opens on a a party held at a house of ill repute (where prostitutes can be found if you’re unaware of that term). The music is playful and energetic which mirrors the suggestive and coquettish nature of the ‘ladies’ dancing for the highest bidder. We see Manon, draped in more finery, and Monsieur. This scene includes surprising comedic antics, the audience actually laughing out loud at points. The skill and strength displayed by Jeffrey Cirio is astonishing! To be able to dance as if under the influence of alcohol, stumbling and swaying, whilst still maintaining enough control to be able to lift your partner above your head is highly commendable! Love striken Des Grieux arrives, distraught by the betrayal. Manon is dancing for Monsieur. She sees Des Grieux, but refuses to make eye contact with him, denying her true feelings, but love creeps in, and she begins to flirt and dance for Des Grieux when Monsieur isn’t looking. She’s tempted by more gifts of diamonds but ultimately choses love over money and runs to Des Grieux. A fight breaks out. Swords are brandished. The scene is beautifully lit, casting the shadows off the dual on the backdrop. The lovers flee and plan to leave for Paris. They argue over taking the diamond braclet Monsieur gave, but agree to leave it behind. Monsieur tracks them down and has Manon arrested and kills Lescaut in front of her.

Joseph-Caley-and-James-Streeter-in-Manon-c-Laurent-Liotardo.jpg
Joseph Caley and James Streeter in Manon (c) Laurent Liotardo

ACT 3 begins in the dockyard of New Orleans, where Manon and all the other prostitutes have been shipped to. Des Grieux has followed under the premise that he is her husband. The music has a naval theme which turns into the progressive like motion of the waves of the sea. The ladies are all clearly distressed and almost unable to stand. The Gaoler turns his attention to Manon. He thinks she can be bought and offers her diamonds, but she has changed her way and refuses. He forces himself upon her in what is a particularly distressing scene to watch. Des Grieux bursts in and kills the Gaoler. The couple flee into the swamps but the effects of the long journey, assault and heat prove too much for Manon. She has bursts of life, repeating similar steps to the previous pas de duex but shaky and unsteady, then suddenly becoming limp. Her life and recent events flash before her and she gives up. Des Grieux is inconsolable.

Alina Cojucaru plays Manon beautifully. The way she was able to portray feelings with a simple glance and gesture of a hand was exquisite. Her playful and light mood when dancing with Des Grieux resonates to the audience. The greed in her eyes when she is bestowed with gifts and her enjoyment at being objectified make you despise her. And in the last dance with Des Grieux, her weak, lifeless and limp body whilst she is moved around like a rag doll, makes it evident that this is her swan song, and you pity her. Alina is able to shine on stage without the presence of heavily embellished attire and diamonds.

English-National-Ballet-in-Manon-c-Laurent-Liotardo
English National Ballet in Manon (c) Laurent Liotardo

Joseph Caley perfectly captures the essence of a young man in love, full of exuberance and vigour. The way he looks at Manon is reminiscent of a puppy dog. Her betrayal leave him completely distraught and his dancing becomes slightly on the border of uncontrollable, lashing out just as one would. When Manon dies in his arms, you can hear his cry without him making a sound, it comes from his soul.

Joseph-Caley-in-Manon-c-Laurent-Liotardo
Joseph Caley in Manon (c) Laurent Liotardo

You can also read insights of performing with the English National Ballet with other lead principals Jurgita Dronina and Isaac Hernandez along with their take on Manon, just following this link ENB Q&A With Isaac Hernández and Jurgita Dronina

Kenneth MacMillan’s production of Manon is an emotional rollercoaster of love, greed and despair. Never have I ever watched a production that has left me so tense and brought tears to my eyes. Unlike the other tragic love stories like Swan Lake or Giselle, Manon is infinitely raw because it could be real. The story is one of life, the dilemmas  presented, the decisions made and the life altering consequences. I defy you to leave the theatre without it having a profound effect on you.

 

Manon is showing at the Opera House Manchester until Saturday 20th October before it moves onto Milton Keynes Theatre 24-27th October and finally at The Mayflower Southampton 31 oct – 3rd Nov. Tickets can be booked through AGT website here. AGT TICKETS

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ENB Q&A With Isaac Hernández and Jurgita Dronina

ENB Q&A With Isaac Hernández and Jurgita Dronina

The English National Ballet are touring with Kenneth Macmillan’s Manon for only the second time in 30 years. It has been selected as one of ‘Autum 2018 unmissable events’ by The Guardian, The Sunday Times, The Sunday Telegraph and The Mail on Sunday.

Ahead of being invited to the premier for review next week, we thought we’d give you a tantalising teaser with a Q&A with 2 of the lead principals – Isaac Hernández and Jurgita Dronina.

Isaac Hernández, Lead Principal at English National Ballet

Q. How did you get into ballet?

I.H. Both my parents were ballet dancers, so it was in the family. I grew up in Mexico, the seventh of eleven children. We were home schooled, and alongside our academic studies, we also did ballet classes. It was a great childhood and I was hooked on ballet as an art form from an early age. I then headed off at the age of 13, to the Rock School for Dance Education in Philadelphia.

Q. What’s special about Manon – in particular, this version by Kenneth MacMillan?

I.H. For me, it’s the narrative – the roles are well defined and so you get a real sense of a story unfolding on stage. I think it’s the most dramatic ballet I’ve ever danced – your acting ability as a dancer is really tested, which I enjoy.

Q. Tell us about the role you are dancing in Manon?

I.H. I’m dancing the role of Des Grieux, the penniless student who the central character Manon falls in love with. It’s a great role to dance – he’s naïve, romantic and a bit of a dreamer and so taking on his character allows you to go back to the simplicity of being a young man, experiencing life for the first time, and the emotions that go with that.

Q. What is your favourite thing about touring with English National Ballet?

I.H. For me, it’s being able to perform for audiences all around the UK – it feels like we build a connection with the cities we tour to and returning to these audiences feels special.

Q. Give us 3 words that sum up the ballet Manon for you?

I.H. Passion, jealousy, tragedy.

Jurgita Dronina, Lead Principal at English National Ballet

Q. How did you get into ballet?

J.D. I did lots of different types of dancing as a child – hip hop, street dance, ballroom. I also tried gymnastics, but I didn’t like it, so my teacher suggested I give ballet a go. My mum took me to see a ballet performance and I really liked it. I then auditioned and got into the National Ballet School in Lithuania, and my career started there!

Q. What’s special about Manon – in particular, this version by Kenneth MacMillan?

J.D. This is one of MacMillan’s masterpieces. The storytelling is just fabulous. As with all of MacMillan’s ballets, he finds the human relationships, emotion and realness in the story. In that sense I can find how to relate this ballet to modern life, and the way that one decision can have such an impact. In this story, you see Manon’s decision and how she can’t escape the consequences that spiral out of control in her life from then on. The audience sees her tragic destiny unfold.

Q. Tell us about the role you are dancing in Manon?

J.D. I’ll be making my debut in the role of Manon – it really is one of the dream roles for a ballet dancer, and one which I feel I’ve been waiting to do for a long time. She has a complex character and I enjoy working through the different layers and challenges she must face and working out how to best portray them on stage. The way you walk, stand, gesture – it all adds up to her character. I find there is a very clear idea of how she is seen by others and what she is to herself. There’s also her interactions with others on stage and the way the movement can convey the different relationships she has with each of them. It’s fascinating and very interesting to work it out.

Q. What is your favourite thing about touring with English National Ballet?

J.D. As we tour we bring the best that English National Ballet has to offer all around the UK. We bring an exciting and varied repertoire to different cities and different audiences and for me that’s really special.

Q. Give us 3 words that best sum up the ballet Manon?

J.D. Love, desire, destiny.

English National Ballet performs Manon at Manchester Opera House, 17-20 October 2018, before heading onto the Milton Keynes Theatre, 24 – 27 October, Southampton’s Mayflower Theatre, 31 October – 03 November and finally st London Coliseum 16-20 January. Tickets can be purchased by visiting the website http://www.atgtickets.com

Don’t forget to follow our Facebook http://www.facebook.com/danceniche and Instagram http://www.instagram.com/danceniche pages for up to date news and inside information at the premiere of Manon next week, and check back here o our website for our review article on what we really think of it!

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Jorgie Porter Talks Fame The Musical

Jorgie Porter Talks Fame The Musical

We spoke with Jorgie about her upcoming role as Iris Kelly in the new production of Fame, her dance background, how she prepared for the role and advice for pre-professionals who want to succeed in dance or performing arts.

Marching through the busy streets of Manchester, I finally arrived at Studio 25, purpose built dance Studios with all the mod cons. As I’m guided through, I get a glimpse of Jorgie through the window, finishing off her previous interview – this girl is busy! She was in London appearing on a t.v show only the night previous, getting the first morning train to Manchester and heading straight into photo shoots, PR events and interviews. Oh the life of a pro!

I’m ushered in and greeted with a beaming, infectious smile and energy to rival a 2 year old after a nap! Her aura is open and sincere and I’m immediately at ease. It takes no time at all for us to strike up a conversation.

D.N Fame is such an iconic dance movie (which we included in our all time top dance movie list Top Dance Movies You Need To Watch ) Had you watched it growing up?

J.P – It wasn’t really my era, it was more the music. When you’re in dance school and do a show, music from Grease and other films are always used, as was music from Fame. I remember opening a show with a kick *demonstrates* to a Fame track. Obviously I’ve seen every show and production of it now, I needed to find out ‘who am I?!’

D.N – Your character, Iris, is a trained classical dancer. Can you tell us a little about your training?

J.P – So I danced from when I was 3, with my local ballet teacher. She was like a second mum to us. We adored her, never wanted to put a foot wrong, we respected her. I learnt so much self respect and discipline through ballet. She then encouraged me to audition and I was offered a scholarship at The Hammond in Chester, a prestigious college. It’s been 10 years and I’ve been so lucky to do Hollyoaks in between, but now coming back to it, I’m so much more confident.

D.N – Iris puts on a facade of being wealthy and upper class. Is it easy to be drawn into pretending to be something your not, in the industry your in?

J.P – Obviously with acting, it’s different, you’re pretending to be a different character. My friends literally save my life! It’s a lot harder to pretend or hide when you’ve got friends around. Iris Kelly doesn’t have that, but she finds it in a romantic relationship with Tyrone Jackson, that’s why they become so close, so tight. She opens up to him about being poor. As a kid, you think not having the right clothes and trainers matter, it’s a big deal. The show deals with so much issues, it’s so good!

D.N – You said you had 10 years off dance. How did you prepare for this role?

J.P – Basically, rehearsals for this have been enough! It’s mind boggling! When your mind has moved away from making your body move, it takes a little while to reconnect it. Rehearsals are so intense, every day, with everyone! Some are just out of college and have so much energy, amazing! I’m so lucky to be in it with them! All your training comes back, you have to do it full out every time. You know know, to be better, you just have to try harder.

D.N – Do you go en pointe in the production?

J.P – I can do pointe, but the fact that the tour is so long and a lot of the stages are so raked, I didn’t want to do it it and have to come off it. I didn’t want to jeopardise the whole show for one night of brilliant pointe shoe movement. I’d love to do pointe all the way through, it’s just not ideal. There’s other dances in it like street dance, and there’s just no time, it’s so fast paced this show!

D.N – Lastly, what advice would give anyone who’s wanting to peruse a career in dance or the stage?

J.P – It is the hardest thing ever! If you aren’t fully immersed into the hard work, if you think you’re going to have an easy time, it’s not for you. You have to take criticism and make it into a good thing, because you will get criticised no matter what.

(You can read our advice on how to take criticism and corrections here Receiving Corrections- How to be a good student )

You can watch the rest of the interview over on our Instagram page @danceniche using the new IGTV feature or on our YouTube channel using this link Jorgie Porter Fame Full Interview

Fame is premiering Friday 20th July at The Palace & Opera House Manchester, where it runs until 28th July. You can buy tickets through the website https://www.atgtickets.com/shows/fame-the-musical/palace-theatre-manchester/ or by calling 0844 871 3019. The Production then heads off to Glasgow to continue its nationwide tour lasting until August 2019! More more information on dates and venues, you can visit the official Fame The Musical website http://fameuktour.co.uk/

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Let’s Hear It For The Boys – because ballet isn’t all tutus and tiaras. (Boys Only! Photo by David Tett, courtesy Royal Academy of Dance.)

Let’s Hear It For The Boys – because ballet isn’t all tutus and tiaras. (Boys Only! Photo by David Tett, courtesy Royal Academy of Dance.)

Hear the word ballet, and you probably conjure up an image of a little girl with a pink frufru tutu on, pink ballet shoes, pink wrap cardigan, pink, pink, pink. It’s no wonder that there is a lack of boys in ballet classes! But all that is slowly starting to change.

Since time began, people have always put certain occupations and past times into little tiny stereotypical boxes. Firefighter – man, nurse – woman, football – man, ballerina – woman. You’re either pink, or blue, and woe betide you if you decide otherwise, because the whole world will try and convince you otherwise. But why?! Thank goodness that nowadays, these stereotypes are being blown apart. And the world of ballet is no exception. Don’t get me wrong, we are only just scratching the surface here, but it’s definitely a scratch in the right direction!

Perhaps most of the problem stems from the fact that previously, the majority of professional male ballet dancers were gay or at least, perceived to be. Not that that should have absolutely anything to do with it, but in years gone by, when the world was a less tolerant place than it is now, boys interested in ballet were put in another little box all of their own, that they too must be gay. Like gay was some form of insult (insert eye roll here). This would either make them quit ballet, or not start altogether for fear of being ridiculed.

Thank goodness the RAD (Royal Academy of Dance) has come up with a solution. They have recently launched a new programme, Project B. Their aim is to encourage and support more boys and men to participate in ballet classes by 2020 – the RAD’s centenary year. They want to help enrol more male dance teachers (as the teaching industry is predominantly women) to help encourage more boys to take classes and have role models to look up to.

(Iain Mackay leading a Boys Ballet Masterclass.)

They also plan, as well as many other aspects, on hosting more boys only workshops with specific male repertoire, so boys and young men won’t feel outnumbered and so discouraged from participating.

(Boys Only! Photo by David Tett, courtesy Royal Academy of Dance.)

The program has already been a huge success, and looks set to continue on the same direction. Bravo RAD. For further information on the project, visit their website http://www.royalacademyofdance.org/projectb

We all know the amazing benefits of taking regular ballet classes are – good posture, healthy supple joints, long lean muscles. It’s now become popular for football players to take ballet classes as part of their fitness regime. They might sound like polar opposites, but think about it for a second. Ballet will help with having that explosive power needed to jump into the air for that header, it will stretch everything out so that sliding tackle is less likely to cause any pulled muscles or ligaments, and it will definitely help with agility, making them light on their feet when dribbling around opponents! In fact, it’s been documented that celebrity footballers Ryan Giggs and the Ferdinand brothers take classes, and owe many attributed skills to ballet. So perhaps when young boys, who see their idols talking about going to ballet classes, they will see it in a different light and think “If they can do it, so

Social media has also helped the situation along. With the likes of Facebook, Twitter, and particularly Instagram, which hosts an impressive dance community, we now know more about celebrities and idols than ever before. We follow their daily lives, their habits, their work and home lives. Dancers are no exceptions here. Many of the professional dancers use Instagram as a way of documenting their lives and connecting with the public. Take Steven McRae for example. Steven is a Principal dancer with the Royal Ballet. He is known for his strong, sound technique and athletic performances. He is also known for being a loving family man, married to Elizabeth Harrod, a soloist with the Royal Ballet, and their 2 adorable children (really need to check out their IG accounts, seriously cute as a button, doe eyes bambinos). McRae mostly documents his dancing life, rehearsals, backstage, warm up routines and eye watering stretching, but he also indulges is with how kind and gentile he is with his wife, and how he dotes on the children. Hugely admirable stuff. He, along with countless other male dancers, are proving old stereotypes wrong. They are shouting from the rooftops that there is absolutely no shame in boys/men being dancers. They are physically strong and fit and able to express themselves fully in their roles without sexuality even being questioned. Applaudable role models.

Girls have always outnumbered boys in dance classes, but no genre more so than ballet. I hear many studio owners and teachers crying out for more boys, so we all have to ask “What can We do?” Well, advertising is key here. Most studios I’ve seen advertise their ballet classes, usually stick with the pink theme, tutu’s tiaras and sparkly wands. Not exactly shouting out to the boys! Let’s make signage more colour neutral. Let’s just have bright colours instead of a sea of pink. Let’s have some boy models on the posters. That goes for Dance shops too. Hardly the most inviting place for boys/men to come and buy their ballet gear, if the pink is glaring at you from the shop front before you’ve even got through the door! Let’s search for more male teachers, be it as permanent members of staff or one off workshops hosts, so boys have someone to aspire to. We can all play our part, no matter how small, in helping our young boys realise a dream and being confident and brave enough to follow it through.

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Surviving dance comps as a parent

Surviving dance comps as a parent

Dance competitions and festivals can seem pretty intense, especially for parents of dancers! There’s your baby, all on their own on a stage that seems to swallow them up, not matter how old they are! What if they go wrong? What if they slip and fall? What if they miss a beat, or speed ahead of the music?! In your eyes, they will always be your baby, and you’d do anything to protect them, but there they are, so exposed and you can’t do anything to help them if something doesn’t go quite to plan! But never fear, Dance Niche is here to guide and help you through comp season.

DON’T PANIC

Try to stay calm as much as possible. Children feed off emotions of parents, so you don’t want them to start stressing out and worrying unnecessarily. If they are worrying or nervous, they will look to you to be their rock, so make sure you’re the picture of calmness, even though your stomach is about to turn inside out!

Remember to breathe! The only difference between excitement and nervousness is the amount of oxygen getting to the brain, it’s the same chemical responsible for both emotions. Take big deep breaths in through the nose and out through the mouth. This is also advice we give dancers too, you can read our competitors tips here https://danceniche.com/2017/04/11/top-5-dance-comp-survival-tips/

BRING PROVISIONS

Comps and festivals can be a long day, especially if your children have multiple dances. It’s a good idea to bring some food and drink with you for you and your dancer. The festival organisers afternoon have refreshments available, but if you’re there all day, it can get expensive! Try not to bring anything that’s too messy, so your child can eat in her costume whilst waiting if needs be, but make sure they don’t eat for at least half hour before they are due to dance, to make sure food has settled and they will be at their best.

It can also get very tedious waiting around, so bring a book or iPad to help pass the time. Taking your mind off the waiting will help keep the nerves at bay.

BE ORGANISED

If your have a tiny dancer, you’ll have to do the prep work for them. Make sure you make a check list and have everything ready the night before, including costume, footwear, music, make up and hair box etc. It’s a good idea to get them to help you in the preparations. It teaches them how to be organised and helps them understand what’s needed, as when they’re older, it’ll be their responsibility. If you have an older dancer, you can verbally check in with them to make sure they’ve got everything covered.

ITS NOT YOUR ROUTINE

This one applies to parents of the younger dancers mostly. I know they are small and look like a dot in the stage but it can be incredibly off putting for the adjudicator if you are doing every single step of the dance in the audience. Not only that, how will your child every learn how to take responsibility for their own dance and actually learn it, if they know they’ve always got you mirroring for them. If they have a blip and freeze, give them a small prompt of course, it happens all the time, but that should be enough to jog their memory. Let them get on with it. If they cannot remember the majority of a routine, you have to question if they are ready yet.

REMEMBER WHY YOU’RE THERE

You might feel feel like comps are the worst things in the world, and the added time, stress and pressure just isn’t worth it, but does your dancer think the same? I bet your child loves comps, thrives off them even. They love to perform, and not only does it give them more experience, but they wouldn’t even be doing them if they didn’t want to be up there dancing on their own, centre of attention! If you ask your dancer, they may feel a little nervous pre performance, but afterwards, they’ll be bouncing off the walls with adrenaline. You’re there to support you child, help them build confidence and make memories. If they don’t feel anxious about it, you shouldn’t either.

Being the parent of a comp dancer is often a thankless task, and it’s hard work too but just remember these few tips and it should be a whole lot less of a stressful thing. Don’t forget the other mums too! Competitions bring a real sense of togetherness and camaraderie, so there will always be a seasoned pro Mum there to hold your hand! You will find you might actually start to enjoy comps.

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Pointe Shoe Chronicles – To Darn Or Not To Darn, That Is The Question.

Pointe Shoe Chronicles – To Darn Or Not To Darn, That Is The Question.

Ah, the world of pointe shoes is the most unique and one of a kind since the Fairy Godmother magically crafted Cinderella’s glass slippers. What brand, manufacturer you wear, the specific maker, the padding required, all so dependant to that of the individual dancer, that no pair of pointe shoes are ever exactly the same. Sometimes the shoes within that pair aren’t even the same!!! Hence the reason for having a professional fit your shoes, which you can read more about here https://danceniche.com/2017/04/25/pointe-shoe-cronicles-importance-of-a-professional-fitting/ How each dancer chooses to prepare her shoes is also unique. You can read about the basic ways of getting pointe shoes ready to wear here https://danceniche.com/2017/05/09/pointe-shoe-chronicles-preparing-your-shoes/

How a dancer chooses to protect the platform of her shoes, is completely down to personal preference. Darning is by far the most traditional method. Not only does it protect the satin on the platform and the pleats, but it can increase stability and traction. However, it is a labour of love. It can take up to 2-3 hours per shoe, and is heavy going in the fingers. With this in mind, some companies have come up with a suede fabric piece that can be glued to the platform area, essentially doing the same job as darning but within a fraction of the time. This has come as a god send to some dancers and parents for whom time isn’t a luxury, who aren’t adept with a needle and thread, or those who simply lack the patience!

There is now another option. There are now people who provide a ‘darning service’. You pay them to take the hassle and effort out of preparing your shoes! Amazing! Dance Niche spoke to Maxcene, of Darn&Dance based in Bedford, UK, on the service they provide………..

DN: How did your company Darn&Dance start?

M: The idea was born some 18 months ago. My daughter dances, and after speaking to some of the other dance parents and listening to their struggles with darning, I asked them if they would welcome a service and use it – the answer was a resounding ‘yes!’

DN: Do you darn all the shoes yourself?

M: Darn&Dance is currently a team of 4 people, including myself. The team vary in experience from dancers themselves to arts and crafts enthusiasts. All members are fully inducted, so they are up-to date on the different processes and understand our standards.

DN: How long does it take to complete an order?

M: Anything from 3-5 hours for a pair of pointe shoes. The time difference is due to the stiffness in the pleats and how loose the satin is. Freed’s of London are my favourite to darn due to how the pleats fall! But I love them all, Pointe shoes are beautiful!

DN: Do you use a standard darning method?

M: My preferred method is using the blanket stitch. It’s clean and leaves a professional finish. However everyone has a particular style, so we have basic standards set out and work within these for a custom request.

DN: What are your plans with Darn&Dance for the future?

M: We currently run out of the UK and internationally. I would love for D&D to become my full time occupation and be established for every country that has a good concentration of dance schools and/or home to a major ballet company.

So if you are a dancer who wants to hold on to and preserve the art of darning, yet lack the skills or time, pop on over to Maxcene and her specialised team who are ready and waiting fulfil your request! You can find out more by visiting their website www.darnanddance.co.uk. Don’t forget to let them know Dance Niche says ‘Hi!’

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Dancing Icons – Dame Darcey Bussell

Dancing Icons – Dame Darcey Bussell

Darcey Bussell has become a household name of late, chasséing her way into our homes (and our hearts) every weekend, thanks to being one of 4 judges on the glitziest tv show around – Strictly Come Dancing. She judges fairly, with eloquence and always with constructive criticism, making sure she ends on a positive note as not to dishearten the dancing celebrities, keeping them encouraged. She has firmly taken the seat as not only one of the most likeable and sincere judges, but as one of the nations sweethearts. A rare accolade indeed. But many of the younger viewers may not know the Darcey that we, as dancers, know and adore. So let’s delve a little into her life story.

Darcey – born Marnie Mercedes Darcey Pemberton Crittle, joined the Royal Ballet lower school ages 13, where she progressed to through the upper school before joining the Sadlers Wells Royal Ballet (now known as Birmingham Royal Ballet) in 1987. Darcey was hailed for her clean and precise technique, so it’s not surprising that in 1988, she had a lead role written for her, which is when she moved to the Royal Ballet and promoted to principal dancer at the tender age of only 20, becoming their youngest principal dancer at the time.

Darcey danced many of the well known leading roles including Aurora in the Sleeping Beauty, and and the Swan princess in Swan Lake. My personal favourite role she played was that of the Sugar Plum Fairy from the Nutcracker – the qualities she brought to that role are exquisite! Another favourite was a sketch she did with comedienne Dawn French, where they danced the infamous ‘mirror dance’. It is hugely entertaining, and really shows Darcey’s wonderful personality and not taking herself too seriously! If you haven’t watched it, here’s a link, you’re welcome! https://youtu.be/UyIMLz_jRbI

In 2007, she retired from ballet, with her last performance of Song of the Earth, and received an 8 minute standing ovation! Dame Darcey is still very much involved in the dance world, despite her retirement. Not only is she one quarter of the Strictly judging panel, she is also President of the Royal Academy of Dance. Being quite the creative, she wrote a series of children’s books called ‘Magic Ballerina’ , about an aspiring ballerina who discovers her shoes are magical! She has also recently launched ‘DDMix’ Diverse Dance Mix, a dance based fitness regimes in which she pulls inspiration and moves from dances all over the world. She is passionate about getting people moving and enjoying dance!

Her most recent accolade, was being named in the Queen’s New Years Honours list, receiving an OBE and her title of Dame, which is hugely fitting. She said “I gratefully accept it on behalf of all the dance organisations that I am so fortunate to be part of. Dance is such a beautiful art form, it is inspiring and provides joy, social cohesion and wellbeing.” and we couldn’t agree more.

So here’s to Dame Darcey, congratulations, and long may you continue to enrich lives through inspiring others to dance.

Dance Niche

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TECHNIQUE vs PERFORMANCE – Are we losing the art of dancing?

TECHNIQUE vs PERFORMANCE – Are we losing the art of dancing?

This is something I’ve been wanting to write about for a while, and is a fairly controversial topic, as there will always be strong views for either side. Before I continue, I’d just like to say that I am in no way advocating poor technique, or the lack of, as we all know technique and good form help keep us as dancers safe and injury free. It’s more to do with current trends in the dance world and of course, personal opinions will always come into play.

With the rise of social media, National T.V competitions and reality shows, dance – and dancers, have been projected not only into the lime light, but into the lives of young aspiring dancers everywhere. They follow their favourite dancers week by week, voting for them to get through to the next stage. They follow their social media accounts with enthusiasm, marvelling at each new pose they post. Instagram has a particularly large and influential dance community, as t.v and professional dancers from all over the world display their craft. Professionals. People who have spent years upon years honing and perfecting their craft with complete and total dedication. And of course much like you and I, they only post the very best photos, the ones that are timed just right to get that perfect shot, the grande jete beyond 180 degrees, the developpe a la seconde by their ear, and the ever popular ‘crotch shot’ aka side tilt, which seems to be as common as leg warmers in the movie Fame! In fact, it’s that common, and some say distasteful, that it has its own hashtag ‘#stopthecrotchshot

We live in a world where how many ‘likes’ your photo receives, dictates how good you are as a dancer. So naturally, young dancers are wanting to emulate the idols they follow, and post the best dance pose they can, hoping to rack up the likes. This has also transpired into choreography. I’ve seen it with my own eyes. More and more I see dancers at festivals show off their acquired skills, one into another, into another, but it’s getting to the point where they are almost showing off. Yes, of course, that’s what they are aiming for. They want to wow the audience and adjudicators with the amazing tricks and displays of hyper flexibility, however these elements are beginning to roll into one another, BAM, BAM, BAM! Quite often, these are the dancers that are placed. The ones who thrill us with their continual display of talent. But is it that thrilling?!

For me, Dance has always been about telling a story, being able to dance with such emotion that the audience pick up on the vibrations, making the hairs on their arms stand on end. You know the exact feeling I’m talking about. A good dancer can move you to tears. It’s part of the magic. You feel like you’ve been let into a private moment. It’s intoxicating, and leaves you wanting more. Can this simply be achieved by a display of capability? I think not. Don’t get me wrong, a well placed trick or element can really add a spectacular highlight to the dance, but it’s more than that. What about the steps in between, the facial expressions to convey the feeling, a well placed pause, a moment of stillness can hold so much tension and captivate an audience so much so the atmosphere is almost tangible. This is the true art of dance surely. To be able to give yourself so fully to a piece, to bare your soul, that the audience are able to re tell the story back, as they live it with you. Martha Graham famously said “great dancers are not great because of their talent. They are great because of their passion” and I think that speaks volumes.

But this doesn’t stop at tricks, and here’s where I could become unpopular with my view, it can also be true of actual technique too. Let’s set the scene……….local dance festival, lots of competitors in a section. There’s that one girl who has been genetically blessed for Dance……..the almost flat turn out, legs for days with slight hyperextended knees giving beautiful lines, feet that arch like bananas, and all the grace and beauty of any prima ballerina that has passed. But she lacks something. That spark behind her eyes, the fire in her belly, the calling from deep within her soul. She dances because she is good at it, REALLY good, but what drives her? Does she perform and project? No, she is selfish with her performance, and has a face like she’s simply stood waiting for a bus. Dare I say it………perhaps slightly boring! Cue the girl that isn’t so genetically blessed. Her legs aren’t as long, she doesn’t have the best turn out but she works with what she’s got and she pointed her feet as much as they allow, but she has something special. She has that ‘X’ factor. She doesn’t want to dance, she needs to. Her face visibly comes alive as soon as she steps on the stage and the audience know instantly they’re in for a treat. She captivated them so much, you can hear a pin drop. It’s also visible when you watch a group dance. There will always be that one dancer who catches your eye whether they are at the front or back. They catch your eye because they perform! They use their face as well as their body. They dance with such passion that it oozes from ever pore. It’s what an audience want to see. They want to watch someone who is interesting and intriguing, who’s fire burns so brightly they too can feel the heat and they get that all over tingling sensation that brings tears to your eyes. Someone who moves them when they dance. It’s echoed very much in the computer animated film ‘Ballerina‘(or Leap if you’re in the U.S) Effectively a battle between a talented girl who’s danced all her life, but dances because that’s what she’s always done, and a girl who has dreamed of being a dancer but wasn’t given the same opportunities, but her passion and determination she’s her through. It makes such a good story, because it’s a true one, “nothing great in the world has ever been accomplished without passion” – Georg Wilhelm Friedrich

So who would win? Ultimately, it’s down to the individual adjudicators, and again, this varies. Some favour perfect technique over performance, but I will always be swayed by that special something a dancer gives. In a perfect world, a dancer would have both, and these rare creatures are the ones that make it pro, all the way to the top, but they are just that, a rarity. Don’t let that stop you though, there is a growing trend in the dance world. Things are changing, slowly, but for the better. Companies are beginning to hire different dancers, differently by age, build race, but that’s a whole other blog post………

So what is your opinion? Which camp do you lie? Are you Team Felice or Team Camille? Content or creativity?

Dance Niche

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Top dance films you NEED to watch right now

Top dance films you NEED to watch right now

Dance is a vessel for visual expression. So it seems only natural for it to be part of some pretty major films and movies, as a way to convey those feelings that perhaps words cannot. Here is my list of top dance films that will make you spontaneously jump from your seat and move in ways you didn’t even know were possible!

DIRTY DANCING 1987

Starting with the obvious. Armed with some epic dance moves (that lift) one liners, and an utterly irresistible soundtrack, this movie was destined to be a box office hit. Patrick Swazey (swoon) and Jennifer Grey are the ultimate dance couple, and their finale dance is has been adopted by newly weds everywhere, trying to emulate the same magic for their first dance.

 

STRICTLY BALLROOM 1992

Sticking with the partner dancing theme, this is THE ultimate ballroom dancing movie! Story of the underdog winning over, it stars a hunky lead male, a plain Jane protégé, sequins galore and enough fake tan to keep David Dickinson in constant supply! Full of high drama, rule breaking and controversy, its definitely a classic you don’t want to miss!

FAME 1980

This list would not be complete without this hall of fame movie. A cult classic, depicting the struggles of young students at a New York Performing Arts academy. Through Fame, the love of leg warmers and sweatbands was born, and made stretch Lycra an absolute must for dance class (Mr Motivator clearly drew inspiration from this film).

FLASH DANCE 1983

Following on from the back of the Fame popularity came Flash Dance. The rags to riches tale that taught us that anything is possible is we believe in it hard enough and work for it. It follows the story of a young woman who works 2 jobs to make ends meet but dreams of being a professional dancer and auditioning for a prestigious dance company. Cue 2 of the most iconic scenes in dance film history, particularly one that wished we all looked as glamorous if we’d had a bucket of water dumped on us!

COYOTE UGLY 2000

Okay so you got me, it’s not strictly a dance film but it’s one too kick ass to be missed off. A young girl heads to New York to pursue a singing career and gets a job in a local bar to become a bar tender with a difference. This film had every woman dancing on bars and tables (much to the dismay of the actual bar tenders I’m sure) and became an unconventional story of girl power! Girls rule and boys literally drool!

SAVE THE LAST DANCE 2001

Romance was truly at the heart of this film, a love really does conquer all kind of story. A promising ballerina is forced to move in with her Dad and attend a different, rough around the edges school. She falls in love with a local bad boy, and their inter-racial relationship causes issues for them. However she helps him on the straight and narrow and he gives her performances that special edge so she makes it through an important audition. This film is packed with music and moves that make you want to hit the dance floor and give it all you got, all night long! 

 

THE RED SHOES 1948

The oldest film on the list but boy is it a goodie! Starring real life ballerina, Moira Sheerer, she plays a ballerina who must choose between the love of her art and the love of her life. This film has the most dance content and technically correct choreography in it, and features snippets of well known ballet productions, including Hans Christian Anderson Red Shoes, which bewitch the wearer into dancing till their death! Mathew Bourne has recently adapted the story for his new stage production, which has already proved to be a huge success.

CENTER STAGE 2000

A teen classic, this film follows a group of young students at a dance academy as they prepare for a final production and the hurdles they face as they work towards getting into a renewed professional dance company. It details the struggles of young dancers today, and is like an up to date version of Fame, just a lot less shiny lycra, thank god!

BLACK SWAN 2010

A big box office success, and why wouldn’t it be, when its based around one of the best love ballets! It tells the story of a professional ballet company as they prepare for their production of Swan Lake. The main character is a perfect Odette – unassuming, modest, graceful, but has she got what it takes to transform into her alter ego Odile?! Featuring some amazing dance sequences, and classical music, it also has a dark undertone to the storyline. Don’t say I didn’t warn you! You can brush up on your Swan Lake knowledge here Ballet Classics – Swan Lake

And there we have it, my top dance movies you need to watch, if you haven’t already! Did your favourite make the list? Is there an epic dance film I’ve missed out and need to watch myself? Let me know, I could do with a good Netflix session for my – ahem – research!

 

Happy watching,

Dance Niche.

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Ballet classics – The Nutcracker

Ballet classics – The Nutcracker

(Karla Doorbar as Clara; photo: Roy Smiljanic)

Nothing says Christmas more to dancers than The Nutcracker. Companies all over the world look forward to putting on their own production, with it being the highlight of the year. The Nutcracker is to ballet what Jack and the Beanstalk is to pantos – a deep set tradition, with just as much magic and adventure, that many look forward to every year. If you aren’t too familiar with the story, read on and you’ll be a Nutcracker pro in no time!

Premiering in 1892, it was adapted from E.T.A Hoffman’s “The Nutcracker and the Mouse King” originally choreographed by Marius Petipa and Lee Ivanov, with a score from the great Pyotr Tchaikovsky (who also composed music for Sleeping Beauty and Swan Lake). Like most long standing productions, the details and the story differ slightly from place to place, but here’s the one that is most familiar.

(Karla Doorbar as Clara, Angela Paul as Clara’s Mother and Rory Mackay as Drosselmeyer; photo: Andrew Ross)

The scene is set on Christmas Eve in young girls family home, Clara, where the Christmas tree has been decorated and the children stand in awe of it. As the clock strikes 8pm, Drosselmeyer, Clara’s Godfather, local councilman and magician appears, with gifts for all the children. Clara particularly falls in love with a wooden Nutcracker carved in the shape of a solider. Fritz – Clara’s brother, breaks it, (typical sibling rivalry I’d say) and Clara is heartbroken.

(Rachael Gillespie as Clara curtesy of Northern Ballet)

During the night, Clara goes back downstairs to see the broken Nutcracker again (does she not know that Father Christmas only visits when all children are asleep?!) As she reaches for it, the clock strikes 12 midnight, mice flood the room, the tree begins to grow as does the Nutcracker! Suddenly Clara finds herself in the middle of a battle between gingerbread men soldiers led by the Nutcracker, and the army of mice led by the Mouse King.

(Jonathan Caguioa as the Nutcracker Doll and Yasuo Atsuji as King Rat with Artists of Birmingham Royal Ballet as Rats; photo: Andrew Ross)

The mice begin eating away at the gingerbread men (well they are super tasty). As it looks like the Mouse army are winning, Clara throws her slipper at the Mouse King, giving the Nutcracker an opportunity to stab him (always so violent, does it need a disclaimer?) The mice retreat and the Nutcracker transforms into a Prince, who takes Clara through a pine forest towards his kingdom. Magical snowflakes dance all around them

(Jenna Roberts as the Snow Fairy with Artists of Birmingham Royal Ballet; photo: Bill Cooper)

Act II sees the pair enter the magical Land of sweets, ruled by the Sugar Plum Fairy (perhaps this is where Willy Wonka got his inspiration from?) To celebrate the victory and to thank Clara for her help, the Sugar Plum Fairy enlists the help from sweets all over the world, who each perform for the pair, including the famous dance of the Plum Fairy.

(Yaoqian Shang as the Sugar Plum Fairy in The Nutcracker; photo: Bill Copper)

As the celebrations draw to a close, Clara and the Nutcracker are lead to a sleigh pulled by reindeer. Everyone waves them off on their journey, much like wedding guests to newly wed couples, and this ends the production, although there are multiple alternative endings around.

(Company dancers photo curtesy of Northern Ballet)

With such a magical, enthralling story, enough sweets to send the kids climbing the walls on a sugar high, and a heroine little girls would dream to be, The Nutcracker is a wonderful way to introduce young children to the ballet world and the theatre, and would also make a wonderful family tradition to watch it year after year.

(Image courtesy of The Scottish Ballet company www.scottishballet.co.uk )

Disney must appreciate the magic of Nutcracker, as they are currently producing a live action adaptation – The Nutcracker and the Four Relms, due to be realised November 2018, just in time for the festive season (top marks Disney) which promises to be every bit as magical as the ballet, if not more. Definitely one to put on your calendars for next year! Watch the official trailer here https://www.facebook.com/DisneyUK/videos/654986464672105/

So, the little ones are tucked up in bed, while visions of sugar plums – hopefully not evil mice kings being stabbed to death – dance in their heads, I’d like to take this opportunity to thank you all for reading and supporting this blog, this is my dream coming to life and I’m hugely honoured and grateful to have you all share it with me. There’s only one thing left to say…….

“Merry Christmas to all, and to all goodnight!”

See you in the New Year,

Dance Niche

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