6,000 miles away part 2: Rearray

The second piece of the evening, Rearray, was choreographed by the internationally renowned choreographer William Forsythe. A former dancer with the Joffrey Ballet, Forsythe was director of Ballet Frankfurt for 20 years before founding The Forsythe Company. He is an Honorary Fellow at the Laban Centre for Movement and Dance, holds an Honorary Doctorate from Juilliard, and has pioneered new approaches to dance documentation, education and research.

Photo: Bill Cooper

Photo: Bill Cooper

Despite the brilliant Sylvie Guillem dancing in this piece, I have to say it was my least favourite of the three. The music, by David Morrow, was discordant and jarring and made me feel strangely uncomfortable. There was one particular note whose high pitch physically hurt my ears, and brewed within me a sense of violence that put me on edge and filled my muscles with the urge to lash out. That said, a friend sitting next to me enjoyed the piece, and said he could detect a pattern within the music so the discord no longer seemed apparent.

I can see how the music set the mood for the choreography, which was brilliant. Massimo Murro partnered Guillem with strength and grace, the two dancers complementing each other in their physicality and lean, flowing arms and legs. I got a feeling of a disjointed relationship, of two people not quite on the same page – perhaps wanting to be, and at times achieving this with beautiful moments of harmonious choreography, two bodies reaching an elegant symmetry, but then falling away to their individual rhythms.

The choreography was firmly rooted in a classical training, but at parts it would veer off to something more abstract than I was accustomed to, which really opened by eyes to the artistic possibilities of contemporary dance. A stalwart of classical ballet, it could be said my preferences are a bit tame!

6,000 miles away part 1: 27’52”

Sylvie Guillem is one of my heroes; a brilliant ballet dancer with seemingly elastic legs who these days excels in contemporary dance. To me, she is dance.

6,000 miles away programme

6,000 miles away programme

The chance to see her perform in the flesh as opposed to countless YouTube videos understandably filled me with a giddy glee. That chance arose last weekend. Guillem was performing at Sadler’s Wells in a triple-bill called 6,000 miles away.

The name 6,000 miles away is a bow to the people of Japan who were hit by the tsunami in 2011 while Guillem was working on the piece in London.

However, there was another reason for the name. Sarah Crompton, arts editor and dance critic of the Daily Telegraph, said: “-it sums up her [Guillem’s] belief that you do not have to be physically near someone to admire and like them. This evening is also a tribute to the ties that bind people of like minds.”

I’ve split the review into three parts, one for each piece, in order to do each justice while not prompting a scrolling spree for the reader.

27’52”

The first piece of the evening, 27’52”, the name reflecting the length of the piece in minutes and seconds, was choreographed by Jiří Kylián. Former artistic director of Nederlands Dans Theater and founder of Nederland Dans Theater II, Kylián has received many awards and titles, including the prestigious Commander of the Legion d’honneur from the French government, and the Medal of the Order of the House of Orange from the Netherlands.

The piece was an enthralling opening for the evening. The music, a new composition by Dirk Haubrich, created an eerie sense of unease. Early on in the piece, the voices of people speaking in various different languages slows to a drawl then speeds up as the choreography perfectly matches the changing tempo. The two dancers, Aurélie Cayla and Lukas Timulak, showed immense skill and artistry as they weaved across the stage in a game of push and pull. The choreography was at times jagged and staccato, at times soft and flowing, and suggested a sense of something not quite right in their relationship.

At one point, Cayla lying with her bare back to the audience whilst Timulak seems caught in his own self-absorbing dance downstage, I sensed her vulnerability, and wondered if there was an undercurrent of something more sinister in their relationship. When he returned to her and lead her around she seemed almost reluctant, but after pulling away she would return to him, as if the desire to be free of him could not override the need for his affection.

The ending of the piece, as Timulak disappeared under a black sheet, which was cleverly disguised as part of the stage floor, left me with a great sadness. While he seemed resigned to his fate (death?), Cayla looked confused and tried to find a way out of this fate. But as a third dancer entered the space to hold up the other end of the sheet for her, she solemnly accepted that she too must be enveloped in the darkness.

As the lights came up and the dancers were met with applause, I tried to shake off the sadness that had settled on me. It was mixed with a sense of awe and appreciation of such gifted dancers and such thoughtful and touching choreography.

Rite of Spring signals theatre’s rebirth

As the Rite of Spring reaches its centenary, what better piece to mark the rebirth of a theatre than one so rich with regeneration and the creative power of spring.

Rite of Spring rehearsals

Rite of Spring rehearsals

Choreographers across the country are reviving the ballet that caused such controversy with its first performance in 1913, and which some say still holds the power to shock and unnerve. One performance, in a cosy Portsmouth theatre last week, was particularly significant.

Over 100 young musicians and 40 local dancers brought this infamous piece to life. It is perhaps fitting that these were the final notes to fill the auditorium of the New Theatre Royal before it closed its doors for redevelopment. It will reopen in 2014 as a theatre reborn. Just as spring finally comes after the long winter, so the day has finally come, after 40 years of tireless work, when the regeneration of the theatre can finally begin.

Caroline Sharman, Director of New Theatre Royal, says: “the symbolism couldn’t be more apt.”

“To mark the centenary of the composition that totally challenged the music conventions of 1913 and is so rich with expressions of rebirth and regeneration chimes perfectly with our own story of rebirth.”

Construction work began this month as part of a £12 million joint project between the theatre and the University of Portsmouth to restore the backstage area and stage house, increase seating numbers and add much-needed workshop and office space. The theatre currently uses a temporary thrust stage after the original stage, orchestra pit and backstage area were completely destroyed in a fire in 1972.

The rebuild is also set to include a new Creative Learning Space where film, television and drama students from the university can train and perform, and where new practitioners and companies can develop and show their work in a cultural hub at the heart of the city.

Collaboration is key

Last week’s performance of the Rite of Spring was a truly collaborative project, involving the Hampshire County Council’s Music Service, local schools, community dancers and the Hampshire County Youth Orchestra, with the assistance of players from the Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra.

Caroline highlights the importance of creative collaborations like this: “It is only through collaboration that great art can be created and will be sustained. Our collaboration with the University of Portsmouth is enabling us to rethink and restore our theatre, and our partnership with Hampshire County Council’s Music Service enabled a 100-piece youth orchestra and 40 dancers to create such a great event together.”

“Partnerships, in my view, only work if both sides really want it and are prepared to work at it as much as each other. Saturday’s performance was testament to this collaboration’s success.”

Conducted by Carl Clausen, over 100 members of the Hampshire County Youth Orchestra performed the classic score live. A company of local dancers, choreographed by Jamie Roberts of Jam Jar Dance and Donna Bish, brought to life the story of an ancient society deciding which maiden to offer as sacrifice to the gods. The dancers, aged from early teens to mid seventies, came from local schools as well as community dance groups, including the Misspent Youth dance company, Fred and Ginger group, and the Aging Disgracefully dance group.

Students from two local schools worked with Fraser Trainer, an internationally renowned composer whose work has been performed at the BBC Proms, to produce music inspired by Stravinsky’s original score, which they performed on the night. A University of Portsmouth student production team, fondly referred to as ‘Laura’s Angels’, was involved in the costume design and stage management of the project, and also included the assistant creative producer and assistant choreographer.

A shared experience

Lead choreographer Jamie Roberts, of Jam Jar Dance, was keen to involve the local community in the project. “We decided to use community-based artists to make up our cast. Working with school and colleges as well as dance artists and over 50s was imperative to the success of our ‘Rite’. The collaboration between these groups leads to a wider bank of experiences on which to draw in the choreographic process. Using a range of people with a selection of ages provides them with a shared experience that helps bring the community together.”

Jill Larner, Head of Hampshire County Council’s Music Service, can see the benefits for the young people involved, of the different artistic disciplines working together. “It’s rare for the instrumentalists in the orchestra to have dancers there,” she says. “Suddenly the music isn’t just music, it’s being performed in the way it was meant, and the audience has a visual stimulus as well as the sound of the music itself. The dancers added a new dimension for our young musicians, and enabled them to experience the excitement of a different outlook on the music.”

“Equally, most of the dancers are probably used to dancing to a recorded track, so to perform to live music created by a 100-strong orchestra was hopefully a great new experience for them too.”

Looking to the future

So with the final performance of the season over and the doors firmly closed until next year, are the theatre staff confident of this being a success story, where so many regional theatres have failed?

Caroline is mindful of the challenges they face, but optimistic. “I still have much to do to embed our partners into our future plans so as to ensure the theatre’s sustainability. My challenge now is to find the balance between making and touring great shows to attract new audiences, providing a space to experiment as we nurture artistic talent of all ages and, importantly, providing excellent skills development opportunities for our local community. A tall order, but we certainly have the ideal place to offer it and some excellent partnerships already in place, so I feel optimistic too.”

Following on from its sell-out performance at New Theatre Royal on Saturday April 20, the Rite of Spring was performed at Anvil Arts, Basingstoke on Saturday April 27.

The music video shoot – one girl, two outfits, three cameras

The day of the long-awaited music video shoot arrived. With equal parts nervousness and excitement I began the day, a little high on caffeine and eager to do a good job. The director’s vision for the video greatly impressed me from the moment he first described it over a month ago, so I guess I just wanted to do it justice, and show that his decision to have me onboard was the right one.

Although as a child I could sit still for hours, as I’ve got older I’ve become increasingly more fidgety, so make-up required me to wander off in my mind to one of the many stories that are normally meandering along in there in order to quell the urge to jump up after ten minutes and start running around. There’s always the odd unavoidable twinge or jerk however, which usually happens just as the make-up artist is carefully tracing an expert line of thick black eyeliner. Make-up artists, I’m quickly discovering, are angels in disguise, with the patient of a saint, a surgeon’s steady hand and the ability to hide even the darkest of under-eye circles (something which, part due to my aversion to bed-time and part due to genetics – thanks dad – I suffer from).

The shoot involved sequences showing the two sides of a woman – the light, coy and more ‘innocent’ side and the dark, sexy, animalistic and dominant side. Admittedly, we are multi-faceted creatures and there are more shades of grey than one could begin to count, but from a male perspective I think these are the two strongest images, and served the lyrics of the song perfectly. They also made for a thrilling day for me, having the opportunity to explore both sides of my own femininity to extremes I would never normally go.

My sketch of the two costumes – light and dark. No, I can’t draw hands, but figured they looked weird enough without a head or feet, so excuse the claw-like attempts I have included here.

The light sequences were shot first, and in a white floaty ballet outfit I felt soft and graceful and completely at home, dancing a little, keeping movements flowing and, well, balletic. Although I’ve been told I can flirt outrageously, I can assure you it’s never intentional, and when there’s a guys I really like I’m normally running in the opposite direction in horror at the prospect of actually talking to him. (My boyfriend is the exception but my good friend Merlot had a lot to do with that.) Thus, when the director asked me to be more teasing and flirtatious, at first I wasn’t sure what to do! When you’re more used to the vastness of the stage and having other actors to play off, suddenly being asked to freestyle it in front of three cameras in a small room with the focus all on you can be quite daunting, even for a trainee actor! I found the key was to relax, imagine myself as this girl in this situation – there’s a guy she likes but she doesn’t want to be too obvious, so she keeps checking if he’s looking at her and smiling coyly, inviting him to make a move – and the rest took care of itself. I even had fun!

The dark sequences were shot after lunch, and these I was much more nervous about. Lunch was low on carbs as I had to fit into… shock horror… a corset! Now aside from the fitting for the shoot I have never worn a corset in my life, and I can safely say you’d have to pay me a lot of money to wear one again. Apparently men think they’re sexy. Anything that crushes your diaphragm, pushes your stomach down into your intestines and basically tries to asphyxiate you is not sexy. Period. Matters weren’t helped by the fact that I spent the first ten minutes trying to put it on back-to-front.

Geared-up in the corset, pants, stockings, suspenders – the lot – I inched my way back into the studio (large movements would have spelled disaster for my already suffering rib cage). I thought I looked ridiculous, but apparently women spend money on this stuff to look sexy for their men. I still need convincing. Maybe it’s just the concept of thinking of myself as ‘sexy’ that’s just too weird for me to grasp. After initial direction as to the type of moves we were after, I was again asked to freestyle. I realised that with the director operating all three cameras he had his work cut out, so the more I could get into character and use my own initiative, the easier it would be on him, and ultimately the more successful the shoot would be. I’ve done very little camera work but I think it’s a valuable lesson to learn that people simply don’t have time for you to spend an hour getting into character, and there’s certainly no time for self-consciousness to creep in. There’s a job to be done and everybody’s there to get it done. I imagine the best actors to work with, from a director’s point of view, are those that can get on with the job and deliver the results without needing their hand held, so I plan on being one of those actors.

The director put on some rock music to help me get into the mood, which turned out to be a godsend. With this stimulus I got into character easily, and was moving from one sexy pose to another in no time, my eyes flashing with primal sexual desire at the camera. And the more I transformed into this sexual being the easier it all became, but the key thing was it wasn’t me. Well, obviously it wasme, but it didn’t feel like it was me. It felt like I was someone else, and that other person was confident and dominant and squeezed herself into a corset on a regular basis, and was very comfortable with thinking of herself as sexy. And that, folks, is the magic of acting.Becoming someone else, or at least feeling like you are. The key, of course, is knowing yourself well enough to return to being you at the end of the day.

When I see the final cut I know I’ll be amazed – partly at the artistry of the director, producer and general creative genius-in-one, but also at that woman I see on the screen, flickering from light to dark, coy to prowling – as I remind myself that woman’s me.

Preparing for a shoot and the joy of dance

It’s been a few weeks since my very first post, and the whole point of a blog is that it needs updating regularly, so I hope to make my posts a bit more frequent in the future, starting now! What better than to tell you a bit about what’s been keeping me busy the last few weeks… I am currently preparing for a music video shoot in which I will be making use of my ballet training and doing a bit of dancing. When I first discussed the shoot with the director I had a minor moment of panic, mainly due to the fact that I hadn’t been to a ballet class in about five years, so the first thing I had to do was get back to class. I found an adult ballet class at the school where I used to train several years ago and have now had two lessons. From the very first demi-plié to the reverance at the end, I loved every minute of it, even when I nearly face-planted the floor during a rather unsteady pirouette. It was like welcoming back an old friend.

I started ballet at the age of four. My mum took me to see Swan Lake and for those two or three hours I was entranced, mesmerised, completely under its spell. I wanted to do it, had to do it. For many years it was all I wanted to do, and I dreamed of one day being a professional ballerina, but after too many breaks in my training and lacking the funds to go to ballet school, it wasn’t to be. A few years ago I stopped going to class, but your body never forgets. After years of developing your turnout, your hips find that position natural, so standing there at the barre in fifth position, it felt like everything was where it was supposed to be. I had come home. Admittedly there’s been a considerable loss in strength and technique, and doing a ronds de jambe with my hips moving all over the place was rather disconcerting, but I’m determined to get it back, and I know that after a few weeks of working hard in class it will start to come.

I’m rediscovering muscles that have been laying dormant for far too long, but thankfully my pilates training has kept some of my strength up. It’s going to be a challenge to pull off a decent pirouette during the shoot but I know that if it’s needed for the video, I will do it. This may not be Natalie Portman preparing for Black Swan, but it is still hard work, and makes me even more in awe of what she went through for that role. I hope that I one day get the chance to tackle such meaty roles, but for the moment I’m taking every opportunity I can and enjoying the experiences along the way, and this music video is a perfect example – in preparing for a role, I have rekindled an old flame, and rediscovered the joy of dance.