Sunday, 30 October 2016

Sugar Plum for an Hour

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In  our most ambitious intensive yet, we were guests of Mr and Mrs Stahlbaum at their Christmas party. We were also allowed to be the Sugar Plum Fairy and her prince for an hour or so. I am talking, of course, about Jane Tucker's workshop on The Nutcracker for KNT Danceworks which took place yesterday in the Dancehouse Theatre's studios at Northern Ballet School's premises on Oxford Road in Manchester.

The day began with floor exercises on Pilates mats as it had with Jane's previous workshops for Swan Lake, Romeo and Juliet and La Bayadere. We then had a 90 minutes class which was very similar to Jane's Wednesday evening classes at Northern Ballet Academy in Leeds. A brisk warm-up starting with a walk, then a run with a sudden change of direction about 30 seconds in, skipping facing in, then facing out, jumping Jacks and running on the spot, tendus facing the barre, pliés at the barre, tendus, glissés, ronds de jambe, cloches, grands battements and stretches, centre exercises (pirouette turns, port de bras and various types of jumps) for 90 minutes. Very much like every other instructor's class you might think. Well, no, because Jane challenges each and every one of us to our limits. She expects and gets maximum effort.

After a swig of water, we started with our rehearsals. Jane taught us three dances: a bit of the prince's solo from Act II, the Sugar Plum fairy's dance and, finally, the party scene just before Drosselmeyer calls with his prezzies for the kiddies.

The first two roles are danced by principals and require enormous strength and precision. The prince demands a tour en l'air from a standing start followed by three changements, more tours en l'air and more changements, a quick succession of arabesques and jetés culminating in pirouettes. Sugar Plum requires rapid and dainty footwork much of it on demi-pointe which I find taxing. Gallantly Simon played our Muntagirov for the day while the rest of us struggled to imitate Nuñez. We rehearsed each of those dances a couple of times before breaking for lunch at 13:45.

On the way back to the workshop we spotted some young dancers of South Asian heritage learning what seemed to be an Indian classical dance in the studio next to us. We peered in through the window for a few seconds. Noticing our curiosity the teacher came to the door and explained that her class was part of the Centre for Advance Training in Dance programme (see The Lowry CAT 27 May 2016). Leeds has a CAT too and I had seen the high standard achieved by those young dancers in their summer show (see Small Steps and other Pieces - Leeds CAT End of Term Show 2 July 2016). I am delighted that students in Manchester have opportunities to experience some of the dance traditions of the rest of the world and not just European genres. Particularly apt as yesterday was the day before Diwali.

In the last 90 minutes we learned the party scene which was easier to remember but required some teamwork. We were split into two groups which filed in from stage left and stage right respectively. The first part was easy enough - three steps and then  a tendu. The pace changed to a gallop and we met the other group offering each other out left or right hands alternatively. I was reminded of the eightsome reels of my days at St Andrews. Once we had completed the gallop we formed into four lines. More memories of my student days. Each line faced the other and set. We curtseyed to the opposite line, again as in Scotland. Finally, we lined the walls of the studio facing our imaginary audience.

After another rehearsal of each dance from the top our adult dance class principal Karen arrived and filmed our efforts in our end of the day show. We performed the prince and Sugar Plum in three groups and Karen clapped each group generously. I have no idea what I looked like on film but I shall probably learn at our chambers party when the smartphones come out after everyone has had the odd glass or more of Christmas cheer. Finally, we danced the party scene together to more applause from Karen.

We had a great day yesterday. In my view the best intensive ever. Possibly because it is traditionally performed around Christmas, there's something about The Nutcracker that makes us all feel good notwithstanding its alleged dark side (see A Dark Side to The Nutcracker 24 Oct 2016). A huge thank you to Jane for teaching it, Karen for arranging it, Josh for assisting with it and each and every one of my fellow participants for making the day so special.

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