Saturday, 2 July 2016

Small Steps and other Pieces - Leeds CAT End of Term Show

Author Ben Btooksbank
Source Wikipedia
Creative Commons Licence

Northern School of Contemporary Dance and Academy of Northern Ballet, End of Year Show, Stanley and Audrey Burton Theatre, Leeds, 25 June 2016

I have mentioned Cara O'Shea in this blog several times since I saw her class at the Northern Ballet and Phoenix Dance Theatre open day on 15 Feb 2014 (see Northern Ballet Open Day 18 Feb 2014). She is an inspiring teacher as I found out for myself a few days later when she taught our Over 55 class (see A Treat For Us Old Ladies 27 Feb 2014). We love Cara as we do all the teachers at Northern Ballet Academy and, in particular, our regular instructor, Annemarie Donoghue, but, on the very rare occasions that Annemarie can't take us, we are always delighted by Cara.

Cara's job title is Head of Lower Level Pre-Professional Programme which places her in charge of the younger pupils of the Academy of Northern Ballet. Occasionally she is asked to coach some of those pupils for ballets such as The Nutcracker where children have a role in the ballet.  When I reviewed Northern Ballet's performance of that ballet on 18 Dec 2015 in Northern's Nutcracker 19 Dec 2015 I wrote:
"there are some delightful touches that one does not see in every other production. There are the mime sequences where Clara recounts the battle with the mice to Drosselmeyer and later her dad and the children's pieces, particularly the little chap with his trumpet whom Gita named "man of the match". Cara O'Shea has to be congratulated for the work she did with the little ones for so often it is they who can make The Nutcracker."
Cara's contribution to the Academy and Company was acknowledged last week by Northern Ballet's Artistic Director, David Nixon, in a brief introduction to the Academy and Northern School of Contemporary Dance Centre for Advanced Training End of Year Show on the 25 June 2016. He mentioned in particular her ballet Small Steps which she had created for the Academy to commemorate the International Holocaust Memorial Day earlier this year (see Small Steps - Northern Ballet Academy's Commemoration of the Kindertransport 21 Jan 2016). I had missed it when it was first performed because it clashed with the live screening of the Bolshoi's performance of The Taming of the Shrew from Moscow. I got my chance last Saturday when it was performed as part of the Academy's end of year show.

Small Steps was a very beautiful work and I was profoundly moved by it for two reasons. The first is that the dancers were about the same age as the children who were sent abroad. They looked so bonny but also so lost and vulnerable. The second is that Cara chose very appropriate music - Arvo Pärt's Für Alina and Spiegel im Spiegel, Lee Holdridge's Into the Arms of Strangers, the intermezzo from Pietro Mascagni's Cavalleria Rusticana and Paul de Senneville's Marriage d'Amour.  The ballet explored the conflict in the parents' minds and the pain of separation.  Although she challenged her dancers her choreography was restrained and sombre - and as I have said before profoundly beautiful.

Although Small Steps was the high point of the afternoon it was not the only work of excellence. Cara worked with Yoko Ichino, the Academy's Associate Director and the company's Ballet Mistress on Greeting, the grande entree, and with Nixon and Ichino on the Finale. She also created Presentation to Johann Strauss's Napoleon March in which the girls displayed their mastery of technique with considerable grace and Knightsbridge, a bravura piece for the boys to Eric Coates's famous score.

Although the choreography was attributed (quite rightly) to Fokine I am pretty sure that Cara must have had something to do with the more senior students' performance of Chopiniana  (or Les Sylphides as it is called in the programme). It is a very beautiful but also very difficult ballet to perform well and not every professional company gets it right but Cara's girls and boy did and all credit to her and them.

There was excellent contemporary dance too.   I was particularly impressed by the NSCD's performance of Studio Wayne McGregor's Datum towards the end of the show but I admired all the works including Matthew Slater's Converge, Tim Casson's Connect, Holly Noble's Phonic and Gemma Harrison's Another Day. In his speech Nixon stressed the importance of contemporary dance in ballet training and vice versa. Leeds is lucky to have the NCDS and Academy in such close proximity.

As I explained in The Lowry CAT 27 Feb 2016 Centres of Advanced Training provide opportunities for pupils aged 10 to 18 who aspire to a career in dance. The programme was accompanied by a list of student destinations which included some of the top schools in the country - Elmhurst, Central, Ballet West, Royal Conservatory of Scotland and Northern Ballet School where Cara trained.  I am sure all my readers will join me in wishing those students well in their careers.

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