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Tag: what’s on stage

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?!

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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

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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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Fame The Musical | UK Tour

Fame The Musical | UK Tour

Fame is synonymous with the 80’s, shiny spandex and a myriad of coloured leg warmers.  Following the huge success of the original 1980 film, a subsiquent spin-off series was aired, and the immensely talented cast also went on to have a string of creative successes of their own. So the word ‘FAME’ is heavily ingrained in people’s minds, and hearts, but just how well would this new 30th anniversary musical production stand up to the die hard Fame fanatics (myself included) , I was about to find out.

Sat in the auditorium of The Palace Theatre Manchester, there is a buzz of excitement like I’ve never known before a production. As everyone takes their seats, theres a burst of brightly coloured neon lights, and we open on a drummer and guitarist playing the oh-so-familiar chords of a certain ‘light up the sky like a flame’ song. But its just a tantalisingly  slither, as we realise its the beginning scene of auditions at New York’s Performing Arts School. (You can read our advice about auditions here Top Audition Hacks ) We then cut intermintenly to the other auditionees, until the final line up is revealed.

We soon get to the nitty gritty of the production with the freshman year, “a discovery of self” proclaims Mr Myres, the resident drama teacher, (played by Cameron Johnson). We get to meet the main characters, suitably nervous and unsure in disposition, well, apart from the gregarious, larger than life Joe, played effortlessly by Albey Brookes, who knows where the actor end and the character begins?!

Nick Piazza, played by Keith Jack (who shot to fame in the BBC series ‘Any Dream Will Do’) is a serious classical actor, solely focused on honing his skills, and oblivious to the romantic advances of his classmates, Serena Katz aka Molly McGuire, who’s vocals will blow you away in contrast to her nerdy and unasuming character!

We meet Tyrone jackson, (Jamal Crawford) who plays a typical wayward teen, angry at the injustice in the world, particularly surrounding race, but who’s passion and natural flare for dance carry him through. He is instantly attracted to Iris Kelly (Jorgie Porter of Hollyoaks fame) who’s a prima ballerina in the making with all the airs and graces that seemingly come with it. She confides in him that its all an act and she desperately poor, and once her guards are down, they become romantically involved.

Fiery latina Carmen Diaz is played by Stephanie Rojas, is ravenous for fame and will stop at nothing to reach her goal. She strikes up an unlikely partnership with Schlomo (Simon Anthony) a classical trained violinist, who’s father is also a famous violinist, but who’s rather be tickling the ivories of a piano, and sets up a rock band. Mr Sheinkopf is the German music teacher, and vocal about his dislike for rock and roll.

Lambchops played by Louisa Beadal, is the rock chic tomboy, who is the drummer of the band, never taking school seriously, and is constantly mocked by Goody, the trumpet player in the band, for being ‘a girl’.

Then there is Mabel Washington aka Hayley Johnston. She’s a talented dancer/singer, but struggles to reign in her love for food, and consequently, her weight, to the dismay of resident choreographer, Miss Bell, played by Katie Warsop.

All this is headed up by Principal Miss Sherman, (renowned Mica Paris) who’s comes down hard on the kids for not performing well enough academically, but truly loves and cares for every one of them and has the best interests at heart.

The quality of the dancing throughout the show is tremendous, and the energy never wains! We are treated to technically beautiful ballet scenes. Jorgie Porter positively glows whilst executing them, nailing double pirouettes into arabesques effortlessly! (Jorgie told us about her previous dance training when we interviewed her during a press afternoon. You can read about it here Jorgie Porter Talks Fame The Musical ) In stark contrast, the hip hop and jazz styles certainly pack a punch, as do the enviable leg extensions by the ensemble! The whole cast take on each genre with finesse and sense of style, completely maliable and adaptable, which are sought after characteristics in they arts.

Dance and music go hand in hand, and the live instrumentals played by the multitalented cast are seamlessly woven into each scene. You truly believe you are peering in on a band rehearsal, jamming away. As for the vocals, you will be left with goosebumps, multiple times. Keith Jack has a way of story telling to his singing, perfect for the stage. Molly’s high notes are angelic to the ear. Stephanie has a real raw quality to her voice, in perfect harmony to what her character goes through. And last but certainly not least, Mica’s soulful and earthy rendition of “These are my children” received a standing ovation from the audience, mid scene! She blasts out the lyrics without loosing a drop of sincerity, in what is a completely believable emotion and performance.

The show takes us on a journey from freshman year, to senior year show, in which you see the journey the characters make, as they blossom and fulfil their destinies. Those years are melted away by clever snippets of dialogue and scenes to show progression of time. This means there are huge amounts of swift changes for the cast and scenery, but its done in a way to mimic the fast paced nature of being in the arts. Subtle effects like the hushed sound of traffic in the background, add to the believability of New York life. I also have to mention the wonderful addition of the original cast of Fame headshots are illuminated as the backdrop, which light and fade echoing who’s currently in the scene. The journey ends with the whole auditorium on its feet, dancing and singing your cares away to the title song track, in what is almost an immersive theatre experience! I defy you not to join in!

Fame is as relevant and real now, as it was back in the 80’s. Controversial topics such as discrimination, race, drugs, teen angst and unrequited love hit home to many. Being a performing arts student, putting yourself on show and subject to criticism is a tough job, one made incessantly harder by dealing with the normal difficulties of growing up. To quote Miss Bell ” artists are special” and if you’ve got a special something within you, you need to work hard, fight to let it shine and the rewards will be limitless.

The production is currently running at the Palace and Opera House Manchester until 28th July 18, before embarking on it’s mamouth nationwide tour, ending August 2019. To find your nearest venue, dates, and how to book, visit the official website Fame The Musical UK Tour

FAME LIVES FOREVER

Dance Niche

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Q&A with Flashdance the musical’s Gloria aka Hollie Ann Lowe

Q&A with Flashdance the musical’s Gloria aka Hollie Ann Lowe

Flashdance is ingrained in history as being a monumental and iconic film! That’s why we included it in our top dance movies to watch! You can see what else made the list here https://danceniche.com/2017/12/28/top-dance-movies-you-need-to-watch/ It tells the tale of a young hopeful Alex. A welder by day, dancer in a bar by night, who yearns to make it as a professional dancer. Hers, and most of the characters in the story are one that many of us are all too familiar with. The self doubt, trying to please others, still needing money to pay bills. We spoke to Hollie Ann Lowe who plays ‘Gloria’……….Gloria I think they got your number! (Sorry, I couldn’t help myself) about the show, her character and and the parallels between the show and real life.

Hi Hollie! Thanks so much for taking the time to answer our questions! Let’s begin….

DN: Dance Niche named Flashdance as one of their top must see dance movies. Were you a fan of the film before the Musical?

H: Since performing in a youth version of Flashdance when I was 14, it has been one of my favourite films and musicals. The film is so iconic and will never get old!

DN: Flashdance is an iconic film, that paved the way for perms and leg warmers! How does the Musical stand up to the film? Do you still own leg warmers?

H: I was born in 96, however growing up I loved all things 80’s! I do still own leg warmers and they often make an appearance in warm up! Ha. Our musical is adapted slightly but there are so many iconic outfits, songs, dance movements…it’s a real flash back to the 80’s!

DN: As well as acting, there’s a lot of dance content and choreography involved with being a cast member of Flashdance. What is your dance background and what is your favourite genre of dance?

H: I started dancing at 5, and have danced my whole life. Training in different styles, I moved to London when I was 17 to train in dance and musical theatre professionally and had the time of my life for three years training in all styles of dance, singing and acting before starting with Flashdance!

DN: The world of professional Dance is a tough one to break into, do you identify with the themes of the story and feelings of the main characters?

H: Alex Owens, is the epitome of any young dancer or performer wanting to break into the industry. We are faced with many challenges along the way but it is the passion, love and drive that keeps us going and gives us the best job there is!

DN: Your character Gloria, really encourages Alex to go for the audition at Shipley’s. How did you feel when auditioning for Flashdance and who encouraged you to go for it? Did you watch the film as part of your prep?!

H: Very similar to both Alex and Gloria, it’s a big scary world when auditioning. However this show and film has been so close to my heart for years that I had the most amazing experience and loved every second of the audition process! My family have always encouraged me, especially my Mum who growing up would always encourage me to reach for higher.

DN: Being a professional dancer yourself and having successfully made a career in dance, what would you say your top tip for dancers at auditions is?

H: My top tip would be to enjoy every second….even an audition! Things will come and go but most important thing is to every step of the journey, even the rejection…be grateful for the lesson learnt and enjoy moving forward.

DN: Lastly, what would you say to anyone who might be thinking about coming to see the show?

H: With edgy choreography and exciting musical arrangements, Flashdance is a must see show for everyone!! You will be taken on a journey back to the 80’s and have a fun filled night out!

Thanks Hollie for the insight! Break a leg with the rest of the tour!

Flashdance is finishing its run here at the amazing Manchester Opera House, however the rest of the tour dates can be found here http://www.flashdanceuktour.co.uk/tour-schedule

This is definitely one show that is bound to get you out of your seats dancing and singing along, leg warmers mandatory!

Dance Niche

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