Sunday, 25 June 2017

Top Cats: the NSCD and Northern Ballet Academy End of Year Show

Standard YouTube Licence

Leeds CAT End of Year Show, 24 June 2017, 15:00 Riley Theatre, Northern School of Contemporary Dance, Leeds

In The Lowry CAT 27 May 2016 I wrote:
"There are in England nine Centres for Advanced Training in Dance ("CAT") which identify children and young people with exceptional talent for dance and develop them through contact with leading dancers, teachers and choreographers."
According to the What are CATS? page of the Dance CATs website, there are now 12 and two of them are in Leeds, namely the Academy of Northern Ballet and the Northern School of Contemporary Dance ("NSCD"). Yesterday the Academy and NSCD held end of year shows at the NSCD's Riley Theatre. As I am a Friend of the Academy as well as the company, I support it in every way I can. Thus, I found myself at the matinee performance at 15:00.

Yesterday's visit was my first to the NSCD and, consequently, I did not know the layout of the theatre when I booked my ticket over the internet.  I had selected D7 in the stalls thinking that it would give me a good view as it was pretty close to the stage. It turned out to be a restricted view because the audience is seated in a semicircle in very solid upright, wooden chairs that are more like church pews than seats in an auditorium. As a result, I had a grandstand view of the wings at stage right but I could see hardly anything of stage left. That was only a problem in the last piece, Echo by Matthew Slater, because the work opens with several dancers' supporting another standing upright. It was a very impressive sight which must have required a lot of practice by the dancers and their choreographer.

The programme consisted of 10 works half of which were presented by the Academy and the other half by the NSCD.  The show opened with Greeting which had been created by Yoko Ichino, Cara O'Shea and Siobhan Camkin for all the Academy's students to music by Ottorino Respighi from La Boutique Fantasque. It introduced the Academy and was the first opportunity for the audience to see the capabilities and discipline of those talented young people. Next came Headspace by the NSCD students who were equally impressive in their genre. The work was choreographed by Krista Vuori of Frantic Assembly and was described as "An exploration into the questions we ask ourselves and thoughts that randomly enter into our mind everyday." There was some speech some of which was inaudible but that did not matter too much because it was a dance piece and the sentiments were clear enough from the dancers' movements. The rest of the show alternated between ballet and contemporary dance and ended with Slater's Echo.

All the contributions were good and I enjoyed them all but there were three works that stood out for me particularly.  One of these was Headspace which I have described above.   Another was The Reel scene from La Sylphide which Cara O'Shea had adapted skilfully. It was pretty faithful to Bournonville's choreography but, whenever I see dancers with folded arms, I ask myself whether that great choreographer had ever actually seen Highland or even Scottish country dancing. Not once since I was dragooned into making up the numbers for a Dashing White Sergeant at the Celtic Society's bejants' ceilidh have I ever seen anyone in Scotland dance like that but I think only someone as august as Bourne (Sir Matthew that is) dare contradict Bournonville (see Sir Matthew Bourne's Highland Fling Montage on YouTube). The last that stood out was Echo which was a perfect way to end the show.

One of the functions of the CATs is to prepare their students for vocational training. The programme listed the destinations of this year's final year students and they are very impressive. Two are off to Northern Ballet School in Manchester which celebrates its 40th anniversary today. Congratulations! Many of my favourite teachers at both KNT and the Academy trained there. Others are going to the Royal Conservatoire of Scotland, The Hammond School, Trinity Laban, Urdang Academy and many other famous institutions. And to remind us that dance provides great mental, as well as physical, training, one of the students is on her way to med school at Cambridge (Caius I presume). I wish each and every one of those students well in his or her career and look forward to seeing at least some of them on stage again.

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