American choreographer Helen Pickett seals her reputation as a masterful creator of narrative ballet in her adaptation of Arthur Miller’s seminal play The Crucible. Teaming up with Scottish Ballet, themselves with a not-too-shabby reputation for staging classic American literary works (2012’s A Streetcar Named Desire), together they deliver a gripping, unsettling, goose bump-inducing work.
The prescience of the subject matter is in itself chilling, that a work written at the height of the Cold War and set at the Salem Witch Trials in the 1690’s, has a relevance in 2019, is shuddering to acknowledge.
Pickett’s choreography is refreshingly original, a blast of beautiful, lyrical modernity set against a historic backdrop. Her background as not only a dancer, but accomplished actress, has reaped dividends in this work. Each character is clearly defined, and the choreography is sufficiently emotive, nuanced and descriptive enough to drive the narrative.
Emma Kingsbury and David Finn’s design, dark and claustrophobic, is almost a character in itself and the wonderfully named Peter Salem’s score is a knock-out, pulsating, atmospheric, the sense of foreboding building throughout. It is notable in its perfect reflection of time and place, and is played gorgeously by the Scottish Ballet orchestra.
This is a company of universal quality and the entire work is danced with conviction, Barnaby Rook Bishop shines as John Proctor as does Bethany Kingsley-Garner as his wronged wife Elizabeth, who has matured into a beautifully nuanced dancer, Claire Souet is explosive as the vengeful manipulator Abigail and Katlyn Addison’s powerful, exquisitely danced Tituba is a delight.
This explosive work is a thrill from start to end, a fitting and unmissable addition to Scottish Ballet’s 50th anniversary season.
An ageing Scottish hat maker is preparing for a visit from his teenaged Italian granddaughters who he hasn’t seen since they were toddlers, in Fuora Dance Project’s beautifully crafted dance drama, W-hat About?
An international, intergenerational tale of misunderstanding, memory and remembrance, it moves from awkward introductions, communication mishaps, teenage strops, ultimately to acceptance and celebration where the family members’ mutual creativity brings them together to remember the person they have loved and lost.
Played out on a simplistic but extremely imaginative set, the choreography is exquisite, expressive and eye-catching, it is also perfectly crafted to capture the imagination of the tiny audience members for whom it was created. That said, it is equally vibrant for the grown ups too. The way in which the language barrier is represented, the contrast between granddad’s lilting Scots and the rapid-fire Italian of the teenage girls is cleverly done. The use of shadow play is also hauntingly beautiful as the story reaches its conclusion.
At just 45 minutes long, W-hat About? is an exemplary piece of children’s theatre: filled with clever visuals, arresting choreography and a story that captures the hearts and minds of both young and old.
Shrimp Dance began with conversations between dancer Paul Michael Henry and marine biologist Dr. Alex Ford. Ford had shown that Prozac levels in the rivers and coastal waters of the UK are now so high they’re affecting the behaviour of shrimp, with the creatures abandoning their dark habitat to swim up towards the light to be eaten by predators.
Henry describes it as “a great wave of human sadness sent out to sea”. Utilising Butoh dance theatre and self-composed music, Henry performs a hypnotic hour of dance drama. The themes explored are huge: ecological crisis, mental health and consumerism, yet the moves are minute and precise – the sheer range, expressiveness and emotional impact of these are a testament to Henry’s considerable skill.
Performed as part of the Scottish Mental Health Arts Festival, it opens up conversations on how mental health and its treatment can have a wider global impact and how the arts can be an avenue through which these conversations can be generated.
Utterly compelling, the astonishingly talented Henry has much to say and hopefully the dialogue will continue.
Marie Duthie, June Don Murray and Doreen Leighton-Ward are three women from the golden age of Variety. Aged 94, 90 and 85 respectfully, they are all still dancing. Brought together by director and choreographer Janice Parker these consummate dancers are guaranteed to both awe and entertain.
In early 2016 Janice was approached by the Festival Theatre in Edinburgh to contribute to their engagement programme. Interested in the idea of authorship, agency and the legacy of older performers in today’s dance world, she put out a call looking for dancers from the Variety era who had at one time or another performed on the stage of The Empire, now Festival Theatre, Edinburgh.
Marie Duthie (nee Pyper) was born in 1923 and trained in Edinburgh. She first danced publicly as a toddler at her father’s amateur concert parties where she met her dance teacher Constance Gabrielle. By 1930 she was also training in ballet, tap and acrobatics with another Edinburgh teacher, Marjorie Middleton. In 1932, at the age of 9, Marie performed the dying swan solo and was noted by Edinburgh’s Evening Dispatch newspaper who said, “memories of Pavlova are brought to mind”. By 1940 she toured the country with The Ganjou Brothers and Juanita. Acrobatics was her speciality and in 1942 she became one half of The Raymond Sisters, extensively touring the UK on the renowned Moss Empire Circuit with her double act, which ended with them in mini kilts singing and tap dancing to Macphersin’ is Rehearsin’ to Swing.
Janice Parker Project – Festival Theatre Edinburgh
Marie herself says: “I’ve been dancing from the word go. My mother used to say whenever there was any music on I was twitching and moving, always dancing and doing my own version. I feel so at home the minute I put my tap shoes on”.
June Don Murray was born in 1927 into a theatrical family in Scarborough, the daughter of performer and theatre manager Roy Don Parker and dancer Phyllis Ward and grand-daughter of renowned Variety performer, Happy Tom Parker. The family moved to Edinburgh when June was three and her father became manager of the Palladium Theatre. June began her formal training at Madame Ada’s dance school and went on to perform across Scotland and the UK with the Adaline Calder Girls, the Hamish Turner Dancers and then with the Moxon Girls. In 1955 June became the assistant to Australian illusionist The Great Levante, taking part in disappearing acts, bullet tricks and was regularly fired out of a canon.
June says: “Oh, it’s a laugh a minute, we love it, but nobody knows what goes into making a show, the time it takes, how hard we work, the precision”
Doreen Leighton-Ward was born in 1931 in Edinburgh and began her dance training in Madame Ada’s Dance School in Picardy Place Edinburgh as one of the Calderettes. At the age of 15 she becomes a Calder girl and toured in pantomime across the country before becoming head girl with The Hamish Turner Troupe. In 1953 Doreen attended an Equity meeting, initiated a strike, and successfully challenged and changed the working pay of dancers in Variety theatre. She appears as an unnamed mystery woman in a photograph of that meeting in The Scotsman. Doreen went on to dance in musical theatre and to appear in many TV dramas. She was recently choreographer for The Last Post, directed by Susan Worsfold as part of the Made In Scotland Showcase 2017.
Doreen says ‘’Ours was a small piece of a large jigsaw from which other dance styles evolved. I’ve a renewed sense of worth in the work we did 65 years ago. This is exciting, heady stuff.”
Director Janice Parker commented: “These women have never stopped dancing and continue to transmit their love of the art form and for the act of dancing. They have so much knowledge, skill and passion. True forces of nature. For a year now we have been working together a day a week collecting, gathering, exchanging and dancing. We have two young dancers in their 20s in the company, Katie Miller and Daisy Douglas, who are learning choreography and technique from Marie, June and Doreen. They are also learning about the life of these women and its relevance and contribution to dance now.
We are three generations of dancing. I turn 60 this year and long to give agency, authorship and relevance to older women dancing, to their continuing possibilities and to the stories our bodies tell.
There is so much to share. At the peak of their careers Variety dancers were in the main unnamed. Some weeks they were doing 13 shows a week and travelling to the next venue with their costumes, sheet music, and the occasional dog and kangaroo. And all on their day ‘off’!” An Audience With… is a way of giving voice and recognition and a means to share the energy and vivacity of these dancers.”
The live events take place, aptly, in the Festival Theatre’s Empire Rooms. Structured loosely around a guided tour. An Audience With… is a live and virtual experience with six dancers, from three generations who share their dancing lives, past, present and future.
Marie, June and Doreen say: “We dance. We talk about dance. We talk about the profession then and the profession now. We talk about ourselves. We’ve danced in the studio, the dressing rooms, in the theatre bar, in the foyer and back on the main stage Janice, Katie and Daisy are learning to tap dance. We do the five positions of ballet. We work on portable tap mats and sometimes ballet barres. We experiment with seated dance, and a bit of creative contemporary. We teach class. We talk about dance not just as the mastery of steps but also as the ‘feeling’ of movement, swinging, hanging loose and feeling the music. We know the importance of rehearsal and repetition. We choreograph. And we think about what it means to be an older dancer, what it feels like to not be able to do what you once could and did do, and what it means to do it differently.”
Paul Hudson, Forget Me Not Co-ordinator says: “To actually have people in-residence in the building has brought our history and our stories alive and gives perspective on what we are doing now. The staff love watching these women dance and hearing about their time on the Empire stage.”
In 2018, An Audience With… will also produce a book and a film, and the dancers will continue meeting weekly. They are also interested in meeting other dancers from that era.
An Audience with… will be at the Empire Rooms in the Festival Theatre, Edinburgh on Saturday 21, Thursday 26 and Saturday 28 October 2017 from 3pm to 4.30pm.
The venue is wheelchair accessible and guide dogs are welcome.
Taking Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger’s 1948, Technicolor masterpiece of British cinema, The Red Shoes and turning it into a fully-fledged ballet, sounds like madness, but, in the hands of dance superstar Matthew Bourne, it’s an unmitigated triumph.
Along with young composer Julian Craster (Dominic North), aspiring dance star Vicky Page’s (Ashley Shaw) quiet determination takes her from the chorus line to centre stage when she impresses the Diaghilev-like ballet impresario Boris Lermontov. However, it soon becomes a case of be careful what you wish for when she has to choose between love and her obsession for dance.
As ever in New Adventures work, this cinematic production is replete with tiny detail and humour (the cigarettes dangling from the dancers’ mouths and the principal dancers miming their way through rehearsals are particularly funny). Lez Brotherston’s clever set design, enhanced by Paule Constable’s atmospheric lighting, takes the action seamlessly from the elegant salons of London, to front/back stage of the ballet, the streets of Monte Carlo to a run-down East End music hall. The moving proscenium arch design is particularly clever and sweeps the action along at a break-neck speed.
Terry Davies’ orchestrations of the legendary work of Bernard Herrman (taken from The Ghost and Mrs Muir and Citizen Kane) are faultless and lend the piece the suspense it requires. There’s also clever work from Paul Groothuis, whose sound design amps up the atmosphere in the auditorium.
The dancers are universally outstanding, as ever, and the choreography detailed and utterly absorbing. There’s little more you can say save that this is an outstanding piece of dance theatre – more please.
Sicilian dance superstar and Strictly Come Dancing alumnus Giovanni Pernice is the latest TV dance pro to take his own personal show on the road and it is arguably, the best one yet.
What this stunning show, il ballo è vito (Dance is Life), demonstrates is that the TV dance behemoth Strictly suffocates the personality of its stars. As a regular viewer of the show, I would be hard pressed to express what I thought Pernice’s personality was – the tabloid gossip about a romance with his celebrity partner the only hint of the man behind the smile. In reality Pernice has a winning and highly charming personality and instead of show-boating in the limelight, he is so comfortable in his ability to shine that he creates a show in which all of his cast get a turn in the spotlight.
There is real artistry here, and under the direction and choreography of Strictly director of choreography Jason Gilkison, there’s so much that delights. The first act has a charming Italian theme, with innovative and beautifully staged classics such as: Volare, Mambo Italiano, That’s Amore and Tu Vuo Fa’ L’Americano. There’s also a funny interlude when a member of the audience joins Giovanni on stage to share some food, Lady and the Tramp style – much to the amusement of the audience. Unlike many of these contrived moments in other dance shows, Pernice’s ease with the audience and genuine charm allows him to pull it off with aplomb. The second act is a tale based on the love story of Pernice’s grandmother and grandfather set to a contemporary and classic soundtrack.
The choreography is simply stunning and the sheer speed and originality of the footwork on display is breath-taking. Pernice is truly a class apart. Mention must be made too of the excellent set and lighting (and shadow) design that enhances the choreography beautifully throughout.
Pernice shows he is a team player, more than ably supported by a team of professionals (including the highly talented Russian dancer Luba Mushtuk), he allows each their chance to shine.
There’s a wonderfully relaxed atmosphere throughout and the ease in the interactions with the audience make this show stand out. This is a classy affair, beautifully staged, and the best Stricty alumni show so far. Catch it if you can.
Strictly Come Dancing alumni Robin Windsor and Anya Garnis, along with special guest star, 2012 series winner and Olympian Louis Smith, bring together over a century’s worth of dance styles in ballroom highlights show, Keep Dancing.
Undoubtedly selling tickets on the back of the popularity of the BBC’s flagship dance behemoth Strictly, the show demonstrates the diversity of dance in the UK in 2016. From the Charleston, through the golden era of Hollywood, to the Jitterbug and Lindy Hop and on through the century to Hip Hop with some Latin and Disco thrown into the mix, there’s virtually no dance style left unexplored. Interspersed with solos from the trio of vocalists, the production charges along at a fair lick.
Robin Windsor’s warmth and personality shine through as well as his considerable skill as a dancer, Anya Garnis is the consummate professional and the ensemble as a whole are a talented bunch, but there are moments when execution could have been tighter and the overall effect of the group dances was diminished due to sloppy execution. A highlight of the night is the all-male Paso led by Windsor, delivering a fresh take on a well-worn genre.
The vocalists are of varying quality with Lisa-Marie Holmes impressing the most, particularly in her rendition of Stormy Weather, in contrast, Adam Warrington had more than the hint of cruise ship crooner and suffered from tuning issues throughout. He more than made up for any shortcomings, with an impressive display of self-confidence.
In a show bursting with physical energy, there’s an overriding feeling of flatness throughout, the show would benefit from a compère to ramp up the excitement in between numbers and prevent the sluggish transitions. The set, though simplistic, reads well from the auditorium and the use of curtain drops, flags and colourful lighting ensure a variety of moods and atmospheres.
While entertaining enough, it’s more functional rather than fab-u-lous. Only for the most die-hard Strictly fans.
The most gratifying thing about Scottish Ballet’s Autumn Season launch isn’t the two undoubtedly striking pieces of work on show – Sophie Laplane’s Sibilo and Crystal Pite’s Emergence, rather the sheer quantity and diversity of its audience. With increasing dialogue on the inaccessibility of the arts, to all but the middle aged, middle class, it’s gratifying to see a packed house of all ages.
The two contemporary pieces, one from the most in-demand choreographer of the moment Pite, the other from one of Scottish Ballet’s own dancers Laplane, are equally compelling.
Sibilo, Laplane’s first full-length piece for the company, after last year’s ‘surprise’ showcase at the autumn season launch, is built around the themes of routine in society, loss of spontaneity and showing your true self, it is deftly handled, hugely entertaining and highly amusing. Refreshingly, as choreographer and dancers are working together daily as colleagues, the short vignettes showcase the personalities of the six dancers perfectly. Laplane’s original and innovative work grabs the attention from the start and keeps it throughout, more than holding its own against the world-renowned Pite.
Emergence, created by Pite for the National Ballet of Canada in 2009, takes as its starting point “the way that complex systems or structures arise out of a multiplicity of simple interactions”. To Owen Breton’s atmospheric score, and against the nest-like set design of Jay Gower Taylor, the entire corps de ballet, a times solo, in duos, trios, quartets, and sextets explore the concept of swarm intelligence – the movements: ritualistic, mesmerising, insect-like, build to a stunning climax where the 36 company members dance onstage together. It is a disciplined display that beautifully marries classical and contemporary technique.
Mention must also be made of this year’s ‘surprise’ piece, Jack Webb’s Drawn to Drone, a compelling solo, performed by principal Christopher Harrison. Lying supine on two chairs, Harrison carves the space in stunning style, rippling muscles appearing other-worldly, alien, insect-like. Stylistically and thematically it is a perfect fit for Pite’s Emergence. Webb is most definitely a talent to watch for.
Runs until 1 October 2016 in Glasgow, then touring Scotland.
Following the familiar format of a bit of dance, a bit of song, a bit of chat, and some audience participation, Strictly Come Dancing alumni Iain Waite and Natalie Lowe sashay into town with their first live show A Touch of Class.
The personable pair glide through a selection of classic ballroom dances, an audience Q & A and some backstage chat about their colleagues on Strictly. The two are gifted dancers and their grace and elegance is a joy to watch, making these undoubtedly difficult routines look effortless.
Waite is a natural showman (as evidenced by his appearances on Strictly It Takes Two) and hogs the mic, relishing the backstage gossip and saucy quips. Lowe is softer than her on-screen persona, an advocate for traditional ballroom, she comes across as genuinely thankful for the opportunities that dance has given her.
The action is punctuated by swing classics from Luke Upton – an intense young man with a fine voice but a rather inflated stage presence and a gimlet stare. Local choir Voice of the Town tackle some pop standards throughout the night to allow for costume changes, but one can’t help get the feeling from the audience reaction that they would rather have had some more dance.
There are no zippy Latin routines here, just good old-fashioned traditional ballroom at his best – as the title suggests – a class act. A bit more dance would have been nice, though.
Removed from the constraints of competing in Strictly Come Dancing, Brendan Cole gets the chance to highlight his considerable choreographic and performance skills to a packed house in Glasgow on his Night to Remember tour.
Despite suffering from pneumonia, a visibly pale and thin Cole presents the most spectacular and professional production of any of the Strictly alumni. The programme carefully curated to appeal to a wide audience: the music a mix of old and new and the choreography both modern and classic.
The dancing is interspersed with songs from vocalists Iain MacKenzie and Julie Maguire and there’s the ubiquitous Q & A session where fans get the chance to ask their dance hero some personal questions.
To his great credit Cole performs with gusto despite suffering from serious and debilitating illness and his cast, band and singers are of the highest quality. The set and costumes also set Cole’s production head and shoulders above his peers. A class act from start to finish, Cole’s show always delivers.