Saturday, 30 August 2014

Chantry Dance - Making Connections

Chantry Dance Company is one of two professional dance companies in the East Midlands and the only one in Lincolnshire. It is based in Grantham which was the home town of Sir Isaac Newton. On the 25 and 27 Sept 2014 the company will dance Chasing the Eclipse as part of the Gravity Fields science and arts festival to celebrate his life and work and connection with the town. Chantry Dance presents great performances as I mentioned in Chantry Dance Company's Sandman and Dream Dance on 10 May 2014 but it also does great educational and outreach work which I covered in Chantry Dance Summer School 2 Aug 2014 and Chantry Dance Associates: Lots of Promise 28 July 2014.

On Tuesday 26 Aug 2014 the company opened its doors to the public in Making Connections.  This consisted of presentations by the company's artistic directors and principal dancers Rae Piper and Paul Chantry about the company and its work and a preview of its new production The Happy Prince which it is taking on tour in the Autumn as part of a triple bill.  Although the event took place immediately after a bank holiday the event attracted a distinguished audience that included His Worship the Mayor of Grantham Councillor Ian Selby.

Over sandwiches and wine Rae Piper told the story of how the company came to be formed. I had heard the story before in May but not really taken it in.  Piper and Chantry had been engaged to dance with a famous Chinese calligrapher who made his brush strokes to music.  Piper and Chantry were freelance dancers at that time.  The idea of independent dancers is not well known or understood in China so their collaborators kept asking them "What is the name of your company?" Eventually they gave in and said "Chantry Dance" and a new company was formed.

Although they are based in a small town in the East Midlands they are not in any sense small town or provincial. Their standards are those of the West End and they made that very clear to the prisoners of HMP Bronzefield who auditioned for "Sister Act" in the hope that it would be a cushy number. The company set up a stage in the prison gym and put the women through their paces. They worked very hard as a result of which their self esteem that had been pretty low soared to great heights.

After the refreshments Paul Chantry led us into a rehearsal studio where we saw some of the scenes from The Happy Prince. I had expected it to be good but not quite that good. Based on Oscar Wilde's short story it has great choreography to a beautiful score and wonderful dancing. My spine began to tingle in the way that it did when I saw Sibley and Dowell, still does when I see Kundi and Christophi and last did when I saw Parish and Tereshkina in Romeo and Juliet. In Piper's pas de deux with Graziano Bongiovanni I had to struggle to hold back the tears. It really was that moving.

Chantry Dance Company's initiative in working with its local community is to be commended for as I argued in Ballet is a Brand 13 March 2014. They do a lot more of that sort of thing in the USA than they do now and though Kathryn Barber counsels me that not everything is rosy on the other side of the Atlantic nowadays I do remember a lot of good ballet almost everywhere when I travelled around America as a graduate student many years ago.  Getting sponsorship and support from the local community is not a substitute for Arts Council funding and other forms of revenue and it should be encouraged.

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