Thursday, 21 December 2017

KNT Nutcracker Intensive


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Since August 2015 KNT Danceworks has offered adult ballet students an opportunity to learn some of the choreography of the world's great ballets in one or three-day intensive workshops. I find them extremely useful in that they have enhanced my appreciation of Swan Lake, Romeo and Juliet, La Bayadère. The Nutcracker and Coppelia, they have afforded some insight into the life of a dancer which has greatly increased my already high respect for them and they have provided an incentive for me to stick at my Tuesday evening classes with Karen Sant in Manchester and Wednesday evening classes with Jane Tucker in Leeds or find an alternative class when I can't make one of those classes.

Here's what happens. We assemble in the students' canteen at the studios of the Dancehouse Theatre in Oxford Road. They are actually the studios of Northern Ballet School where many of my favourite teachers in Leeds as well as Manchester trained. The Dancehouse, for those who don't know Manchester, is located on Oxford Road where the city's two universities, the Royal Northern College of Music and its major teaching hospitals are to be found. Also, it is almost opposite the Palace Theatre which is one of two venues in Manchester for visiting ballet companies. Sometimes these companies actually hold their classes in the same studios. The theatre is 100 yards from Oxford Road station and there is an NCP car park literally round the corner in Chester Street offering a special rate for motorists on Saturdays between 09:00 and 17:00.

At about 10:00 Karen leads us up one of the rehearsal studios where we meet our instructor. For most of those intensives our Instructor has been Jane Tucker who is my regular teachers in Leeds. However, last Saturday our intensive was taken by Martin Dutton who had taken us for class earlier in the year (see Dutton at the Dancehouse 20 Feb 2017) while Jane took the more advanced students.

I regret to say that I joined the class after it had started (partly because I had to attend to some papers before I could leave and partly because road conditions over the tops were less than optimal) so I am unable to say how the class started but Jane usually begins with floor exercises for which we are instructed to bring Pilates mats. I joined the class in the warm up exercises at the barre so I think I must have received a full class.

One of the differences that I have noted between male teachers and female ones is that a male teacher is far more ready to spot faults such as arms in the wrong place in second and they are not afraid to correct them. I appreciate that.  It costs me a lot to attend class - not so much for the tuition which is only a few pounds but in travelling time from Holmfirth which effectively writes off 6 hours of the day - and I like to think that I leave the studio at the end of the session a better dancer than I was when I arrived.  Of course, I quickly learned that ballet doesn't work like that. "Ballet is a tough task mistress who is out to break you" said Fiona, the teacher who led me back to ballet after a gap of 40 something years. Well, when someone says something like that to me I am determined to prove them wrong.

Anyway, Martin put us through our paces with a very brisk barre teaching us some of the steps we would need for The Nutcracker in the centre.  We cooled down with some floor exercises and prepared for  the repertoire class. Martin had chosen two dances for us: Sugar Plum and the snowflake dance at the end of Act I just before the choir comes in to sing "La, la, la, la, la"; "La, la, la, la, la"; "la, la, la, la, la"; "la, lally, lee, la, la, la" or something to that effect.  We put a lot of work into Sugar Plum and by the end of afternoon all of us had picked up at least some of it.   At the end of the class we show off what we have learned to Karen and she or one of the other teachers films us. The video displayed above is from last year's intensive when Jane was our instructor but I think you can get a general idea of what it is possible to learn in a day.

For the snowflakes dance I was given the role of first snowflake. My job was to run onto stage, present with my arms in fifth, do a pas de chat with a smile, turn, do an arabesque and scarper.  I have no idea whether I got it right. Whenever I see a video of my dancing I am reminded of a performing bear who is a full 2 second behind everyone else but nobody threw rotten eggs or shouted at me so I carried on. I re-entered later with two other snowflakes with arms in open fifth on demi-pointe and we danced to the back of the stage where we turned and presented.

Jane had advised us in the first intensive to take a hot bath followed by a cold shower.  It usually works but this time it just gave me a cold.  I was as stiff as a board when I woke up at 03:30 to catch the 07:30 flight from Ringway to Schiphol but the prospect of seeing The Sleeping Beauty by one of the world's great companies somehow kept me going. For my review of that performance, see The Dutch National Ballet's "The Sleeping Beauty" - I have waited nearly 50 years for this show 20 Dec 2017.

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