Thursday, 28 February 2013

Scottish Country Dancing: St Andrews plans the world's largest strip the willow

I know that Scottish country dancing is not ballet (though Ballet West's Nutcracker  had more than a trace of it last Saturday) but I do have to report this little bit of frivolity from my British alma mater.   Many thanks to Legal Golden Eagle for drawing it to my attention..

St Andrews plans to break a record currently held by Edinburgh to hold the largest "Strip the Willow".   There's a good article about it in today's Dundee Courier.

If you have no idea of what I am talking about here's how to "Strip the Willow."

Incidentally, you don't have to drive all the way to Scotland to strip the willow.   There are plenty of places to do it in the rest of the UK.   For instance, we are having a ceilidh in Holmfirth Civic Hall on 2 March 2013 at 19:30.   I have even stripped the willow and dashed the white sergeant in the Inns of Court on Burns Night before now. Check out the Royal Scottish Country Dance Society website.

Around the Blogosphere: Adult Beginner

I think I have found a real treasure in "Adult Beginner". Look at the drawing on her "About Page" of "Your adult beginner ....... as compared to your usual beginner." Brilliant!   In other words this blog is about people like me. Or more accurately about people I aspire to be.  For although in one sense I am not a beginner in that  I took my first dance class in 1970 when I was an undergraduate, in every other sense I certainly am because there was a 42 year gap between those early lessons and my starting again.

Adult Beginner shares my sense of humour.   Look how she divides her blogroll into "Badgers" and "Mushrooms".  I remember struggling to keep a straight face through class immediately after the I had seem mrweebl's "Badgers" for the first time.   That blogroll incidentally has led me to several other delightful blogs this evening such as Johannan Balettikassi's "Pointe till you Drop" and "The Ballet Bag" which I shall review later.

My favourite bits of "Adult Beginner" are the "First Class Stories". Shear Schadenfreude!   I thought of offering my own first class story but it was such a long time ago that I am not sure my recollection  is accurate.   I could contribute my first class after a 40 year gap story but would Adult Beginner really like to know how I felt among a whole crowd of teenagers and 20 somethings young enough to be my granddaughters?

Also worth a laugh is "Le Lac des Poulet" - photos (I think) of "Adult Beginner" in fancy dress.   In the words of "Classical Ballet Teacher"  who also blogs: "You [Adult Beginner] have more guts than I ever will.".I was also delighted to find a lady at the barre from Norwich who is even older than me. Although there is one carping comment those photos seem to have amused a lot of people, including Cyril:
"Super ! J’adorre.
Je suis clown et metteur en scène en France et en Russie, et je commence en mars les répétitions d’un spectacle que j’appel “le lac des poules”, c’est en cherchant ce qui existait sur internet que je suis tombé sur votre site. (je ne veux pas faire une caricature du lac des cignes, mais plutôt chercher ce que serait une danse, un geste comique).
En tout cas bravo."
My last French class was even earlier than my first ballet class but I think he means something like this:
"Super. Love it.
I'm a clown and producer in France and Russia and in March I shall begin rehearsals for a show that I shall call "Chicken Lake". It was through looking out for what existed on the Internet that I stumbled upon your site. I don't want to parody "Swan Lake".  More a dance show in its own right.  A comic sketch.
Anyway Bravo!
My sentiments exactly, Cyril, and not just for Lac des Poulets" but for Adult Beginner's blog as a whole..

Wednesday, 27 February 2013

Learning Ballet as an Adult: Maegan Woodin's Top Tips

The best advice for someone who wants to learn dance that I have found on the internet so far comes from Maegan Woodin who seems to be quite a remarkable young lady.

She has made a series of short videos for Howcast which appear on YouTube.   I have already mentioned and linked to her grand jete video in the glossary.

Her top ballet tips are a good place to start:

I can certainly endorse her advice on attending class regularly and finding a good school and a good teacher from my personal experience (see "Where to learn")..

I need some help with Terpsichore

I need some help with Terpsichore. 

I have added a Performances DiaryBallets Directory and a Glossary to the blog and I want to add reference pages for companies, dancers, choreographers, composers, education and so forth.   But these have to be updated and if possible extended and there are only so many hours in the day. I have to do a very demanding job and cannot afford to give too much time to indulging my passion for dance. 

Perhaps you can help. If you are a press officer for a company, a theatre or school this is an obvious opportunity for publicity. There may not be many readers of this blog just yet (though you would be surprised how many hits I have received after just two days) but if it becomes a useful resource the return on the investment of a little bit of your time could be very worthwhile indeed.

If you do want to help, please get in touch

Monday, 25 February 2013

Ballet West's "The Nutcracker"

Val Vannet
Source Wikipedia
Creative Commons Licence

For those who do not know Pitlochry, it is a small town in Perthshire just outside the Cairngorms National Park. Overlooked by Ben y Vrackie, on the banks of the River Tummel and not far from the Queen's View with its magnificent panorama of Loch Tummel and Schiehallion  Pitlochry is surrounded by spectacular scenery.  The town has many attractions but the one that distinguishes it from everywhere else in the Highlands is the Pitlochry Festival Theatre. Between May and October every year it holds a summer theatre festival under the strapline "Stay 6 Days, See 6 Plays."  I have been coming to the summer festival on and off for the last 40 years and I can recommend it strongly.  You will find the programme for this year's season right here.

The theatre stages the occasional show in the Winter and I was intrigued to receive a mailing for a performance of "The Nutcracker by Ballet West". Now I had heard of a company by the name of Ballet West in the United States which is celebrating its 50th anniversary this year but if that company ever came to the United Kingdom I would have expected it to tour major cities rather than towns in the Highlands of just over 2,500 souls.  It occurred to me that there might be a  company from the West Country which is where Scottish Ballet originated,  I googled "ballet, west, uk" and was surprised but delighted to find a company and school in Taynuilt.  Delighted because where could be more idyllic to study dance than by the banks of a real lake (or more properly loch) which might even host the occasional swan?

Now "Nutcracker" is a ballet I know very well.  Every Christmas I used to see the London Festival Ballet's production at the Festival Hall.   I have seen several other companies' productions, including one by the Cairo Opera Ballet in their new opera house.  More recently I saw David Nixon's production for Northern Ballet in Leeds and the Royal Ballet's which was streamed to cinemas just before Christmas.   I had travelled a long way on Saturday to see Ballet West's production and I am glad to say that I was not in the least disappointed.

This is a very young company and also a manifestly Scottish one.  I loved the reel at the Christmas party in the first Act.   Other touches that I appreciated were a clog dance reminiscent of Simone's in Fille and automatons as in Coppelia in the first act and some extra divertissements such as the Sailor's solo and Mother Ginger and her children in the second.   It is also refreshing to find a ballet with naughty little girls as well as naughty little boys making a nuisance of themselves.  Usually it is just young Fritz or Hans who gets ticked off for damaging the nutcracker,   Another bit of humour was the servants snatching a furtive dram after their employers had had their party.

Altogether I loved the choreography which I now know to have been created by the late Alexander Bennett.   All I know about him is as what appears on the company's website:
"Born in Edinburgh, Mr Bennett achieved international acclaim in the Ballet Rambert and the Royal Ballet. Throughout his years as a principal dancer in both companies he partnered such distinguished ballerinas as Dame Margot Fonteyn & Lynn Seymour, and worked with many of the great choreographers including Peter Darrell, Sir Peter Wright and Sir Robert Helpmann. This production was the last full-length work completed by Mr Bennett."
I shall find out more.

A ballet is made by the virtuosity of its principals who in this production were:
  • Sara-Maria Smith who danced Sugar Plum - a particularly demanding role with its pointe work and fouettés in the pas de deux; 
  • her partner Jonathan Barton, and 
  • Isaac Bowrey who danced Drosselmeyer. 
They all danced well. The website says that Smith and Barton are graduates of Ballet West's school but says nothing about Bowrey whom I liked best of all.

Finally I loved the sets. This is a complicated ballet with a Christmas party, snow scene and a ball room and lost of different costumes from mice and toy soldiers to Chinese, Russians and flowers. Not easy for a great theatre like Covent Garden as we learned from the cinema production. Harder still for the different often tiny stages upon which this company has to perform. Whoever designed the backdrops and costumes did a very good job. The backdrops were much more solid looking than most though Bowrey had to free some fabric which snagged on an expanding Christmas tree.   Particularly impressive were the costumes for the mice whose heads resembled shock troops' helmets and particularly charming were the rainbow skirts for Mother Ginger's daughters.

Was there anything I did not like? Not much. I would have appreciated a programme instead of just a cast sheet. I only found out the name of the choreographer by calling the company and I still do not know the name of the set designer. Some of the divertissements were under-rehearsed and there were a few slight mishaps which hardly anybody noticed and nobody minded. It has to be remembered that Ballet West is a school as well as a company which reaches out to the public. It appears that everyone is allowed a go. There was no orchestra but then this ballet was performed in a theatre designed for drama and the theatre's speakers were pretty good.

The company has one more show to perform on its current tour of Scotland at The Howden Park Centre near Livingston in West Lothian on 1 March. If you live in the area I urge you to see them because you are in for a treat. Surprisingly they have no immediate plans to tour the rest of the United Kingdom though they have advertised a tour of China. I do hope they come to London because I think audiences there will take them to their hearts.