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Posts Tagged ‘ballet’


Photo: New Zealand Herald
Royal New Zealand Ballet dance educator Pagan Dorgan said a dance initiative with women prisoners aims to build confidence and cooperation.

I like reading about programs designed to help individuals in prison grow in positive ways. I also like the idea of arts groups that, in addition to giving their art to the world, develop other ways to benefit society.

Consider this Royal New Zealand Ballet pilot for women prisoners. Meghan Lawrence at the New Zealand Herald has the story.

“Pirouettes and pliés are being used to break boundaries in a new initiative run by the Royal New Zealand Ballet (RNZB) Company.

“Best known for its dynamic dancers and eclectic repertoire of dance moves, RNZB has chosen to put accessibility and inclusion at the forefront of its latest project run in partnership with the Department of Corrections.

“Three of RNZB’s artistic staff have decided to put aside the national and international stages for [six weeks starting in November 2017] and spend their time teaching prisoners at Arohata Women’s Prison in Wellington. …

“Community manager Pascale Parenteau … said the initiative fits perfectly with the company’s primary goal of making dance accessible to all New Zealanders.

” ‘It was actually very timely because for some time the education team for RNZB have been working on developing an Accessibility Commitment Policy,’ she said.

“As part of that policy the company have run three other projects; the first sign-language interpreted guided tour of the St James Theatre, a sensory-friendly performance for children and adults with autism and special needs, and NZ’s first audio-described ballet performance for visually impaired children and adults. …

“[Parenteau] said the project aims to enhance prisoners’ confidence, communications skills and ability to work with others. …

” ‘When I was setting the programme up I was told that a lot of the women come from broken or disheartening homes and backgrounds, which means they would have never experienced participating in a high-profile training environment, so this is a bit of a boost for them.

” ‘I think they have been very courageous to put their hand up and have a go, but I think the freedom of expression that it allows them is going to be very beneficial.’

“Dance educator Pagan Dorgan was excited to take on the challenge, having previously run a similar initiative with male prisoners in the UK. …

“Dorgan said the project is run in two phases; six weeks of workshops leading up to the Christmas production, and then further sessions [in 2018] to learn specific RNZB repertoire.

“[The first session] was a little bit of everyone getting to know each other and we also did an aerobics or gym type warm-up’ she said. ‘We then went through some basic dance movements that were a mixture of jazz, contemporary and Latin.’ … There was no resistance at all and there was a nice, positive atmosphere.’

“Participants in the project said the experience gave them hope and inspiration, provided a chance to grow as individuals, and made them appreciate life outside of prison walls. …

“Parenteau said the project was set up as a one-off but she is hoping to get further funding to expand the classes.”

More at the New Zealand Herald, here. And Radio New Zealand has audio, here.

Photo: Radio New Zealand
A dance class in a prison.

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Vermont’s Farm Ballet

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Photo: Jonas Powell
The Farm Ballet performing at Philo Ridge Farm in Charlotte, Vermont. The atmosphere is casual and allows small children to have fun, too.

Around the country, arts organizations are continually thinking up new ways to expand their audiences whether it’s New York City’s public schools adding Broadway shows to the curriculum with $10 tickets (here) or free admission for teens to the Art Institute of Chicago (here).

In today’s post, a ballet company makes professional dance performances available to people who prefer to be outdoors and dress casually.

Elizabeth M. Seyler writes at Seven Days, “Going to the ballet often conjures images of elegant theaters, dapperly dressed adults and thin young people dancing across a pristine stage. But what if ballet were more than that? What if parents in jeans and sandals brought their rambunctious children to a farm picnic to watch ballet lovers of all ages dance across a verdant, or muddy, field? Would it still be ballet?

“In Vermont, it sure would. Since 2015, the Farm to Ballet Project, founded and directed by Vermont-raised ballet professional Chatch Pregger, has given 24 full-length classical ballet performances for adults and children at 17 Vermont farms.

“Featuring six string musicians and 25 adult dancers, each performance conveys the work and life of a female farmer during the growing season and the natural forces she encounters. …

” ‘At our performances, I see all the adults with their picnic blankets and their dinners — eating, drinking, enjoying themselves,’ says company soloist Maria Mercieca. ‘And I see all the kids dancing along, running around. They’re watching, they’re enjoying it, they’re taking it in, but they’re not being made to be still. I love that about it. It’s a family- and kid-friendly event, and I mean little, little kids.’

” ‘It’s really a great event for our members and our community,’ says Tre McCarney, director of community programs at Shelburne Farms. She’s coordinated four Farm to Ballet events there, and each has drawn more than 600 spectators. …

“From two performances this year, McCarney expects to receive approximately $8,000 to support Vermont Food Education Every Day, a partnership of Shelburne Farms and the Northeast Organic Farming Association of Vermont. More specifically, funds help sustain Jr Iron Chef VT, a statewide culinary competition for teams of middle and high school students charged with creating healthy, locally sourced dishes to improve school meals. …

” ‘The company is very tight; we’re very close,’ says Mercieca, 41, a member of Farm to Ballet since 2016. “‘It’s not competitive; it’s really supportive and a good place to be. …

” ‘We aren’t 40-pound creatures who can wrap their legs around their heads,’ adds company soloist Avi Waring. “We’re human beings,.’ …

“For most of Farm to Ballet’s choreography, Pregger reinterpreted ballet classics such as ‘Swan Lake’ and ‘Giselle’ to allow dancers to perform on grass without turns or pointe shoes. But each year he also created original choreography for one of the concerti in Antonio Vivaldi’s The Four Seasons. ‘Bees & Friends’ combines those original works into a 45-minute performance set to the Vivaldi piece.” More here and here.

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Photo: Snowiology
Princess Norodom Buppha Devi, half-sister of Cambodia’s King, has worked hard to reenergize the Royal Ballet of Cambodia, seen here at the Hong Kong Cultural Centre.

Cambodia went through dark years under Pol Pot, when like thousands of citizens, the arts were exterminated. Now a member of the royal family is putting her heart and soul into reviving the ballet. (“Cambodia is a constitutional monarchy, i.e. the King reigns but does not rule,” Wikipedia explains.)

In the process, Princess Norodom Buppha Devi is reliving memories of her own time in the Royal Ballet.

For Post Magazine, Kate Whitehead interviewed both the princess and the dancer pictured above.

“Chap Chamroeuntola is alone on stage. Dressed in a long pleated skirt and tight-fitting tunic, the 29-year-old stands on her left leg, eyes downcast. Her right foot is flexed, the sole facing the ceiling, and her wrists and ankles are strung with gold bangles. Despite the challenging pose and a towering gilt headdress, she is completely still. As the music rises to a crescendo she remains motion­less. Then her eyes, heavily ringed in kohl, dart up and she looks directly at the 74-year-old woman wrapped in a pink shawl sitting in the third row.

“Princess Norodom Buppha Devi, half-sister of Cambodia’s King Norodom Sihamoni, does not take her eyes off the dancer. No one in the packed Studio Theatre does. Slowly, Chap Chamroeuntola lowers her leg and turns, her arms held high, her fingers flexed against the joints. She moves as if in a trance and when six dancers join her on stage they, too, move as though under a spell. [Thus the] Royal Ballet of Cambodia made its Hong Kong debut. …

“Chap Chamroeuntola disliked the early years of her training and the hour each morning spent bending her fingers back into the hyperextended position that is typical of classical Cambodian ballet. …

“It takes nine years to learn the movements and the dances, she says. During that time she studied the history of classical ballet and fell in love with the art.

“ ‘The more I learned about the history, the more I got into it,’ she says. ‘I want to keep doing this to help my country, I will do everything I can to protect the classical dance.’

“If the dancers’ costumes and poses seem familiar to those who have not seen a performance by the Royal Ballet of Cambodia, the stone carvings at Angkor Wat might be the reason why. Its bas-reliefs show apsaras – celestial dancers – in all their gilded finery, dancing for the gods. And it’s at the ancient temple complex that the Royal Ballet of Cambodia originated – dance, drama and music performed as ritual offerings for the gods. …

“This explains why Chap Chamroeuntola and the other dancers appear to move in a trance-like state; they are praying. …

“ ‘I started dancing when I was five,’ says the princess, speaking through an interpreter. ‘My grandmother, Queen Kossamak, trained me. She was a very good choreographer. When I was six I joined the ballet.’ …

” ‘Everything was destroyed by the Khmer Rouge, it was the hardest time for us,’ says the princess, who serves as choreo­grapher, teacher and mentor for the dancers of the Royal Ballet of Cambodia. …

“ ‘When there was peace, I went looking for the dancers,’ says the princess. ‘Many of them had gone [into exile] in Thailand and came back. I found some and we made a troupe and I set up a school.’ ” More at the Post Magazine, here.

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Photo: Rajanish Kakade/AP
Amiruddin Shah, the son of a welder from a Mumbai slum, won a spot at the American Ballet Theatre’s Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis School in New York.

Even though I know the culture shock can’t be easy for poor but talented kids given opportunities that lift them from slums, I do enjoy these hopeful stories.

Manish Mehta writes for the Associated Press, “The son of a welder from [Mumbai’s] slums had a dream few Indians dared to dream — to dance with the New York City Ballet.

“In a few months, that dream may be a little bit closer as 15-year-old Amiruddin Shah begins four years of training at the prestigious American Ballet Theatre’s Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis School. …

“Shah began studying ballet less than three years ago when Israeli-American instructor Yehuda Maor was invited by the Danceworx Academy to teach in India — a country with no special ballet academies.

“Maor happened to catch Shah doing cartwheels and backflips as part of the Danceworx jazz and contemporary dance program for underprivileged students.

“ ‘I had no idea about ballet,’ Shah recalled. He had been dancing freestyle whenever he got the chance — sometimes he was invited to weddings to perform, sometimes he just goofed around with friends. …

“Within 2 ½ years, Shah had nailed his pointe, pirouette and arabesque, ‘which is unheard of,’ Maor said. …

“Maor bought Shah ballet shoes and dance clothes and helped him and another young dancer, 21-year-old Manish Chauhan, win scholarships in June to New York’s Joffrey Ballet School. But they could not secure U.S. visas in time. …

“Now, Shah is trying to raise funds for four years of travel and tuition with the American Ballet Theatre in New York. They have enough for his first year, beginning in August, but have set up a website to accept donations for three more years in the U.S. …

“ ‘I am so excited, but slightly scared, too,’ said Shah, who speaks basic English but used Hindi in an interview with The Associated Press. ‘How would I interact with people? New York is very crowded.’

“One day, he hopes to be a principal dancer in the New York Ballet. And eventually, he said, ‘I want to teach other children who cannot afford to pay for dance.’ ” More here.

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Photo: Danny Lawson/PA
The Royal Ballet gala is part of the programme celebrating Hull’s year as the UK City of Culture. 

Years ago, I read an article in which some famous theater person opined that, with money for the arts always tight, only major centers should be funded, not small theaters and arts programs out in the boondocks. I believed then and still believe that was the wrong way to go. Everyone deserves arts. And who’s to say where genius can be found?

Which is why I liked this story from the UK about the post-industrial city of Hull, where an impressive ballet school has been training talent for years.

Anita Singh, writes at the Telegraph, “A backstreet in Hull might seem a world away from the bright lights of the Royal Opera House. But one unassuming dance school in a converted church has discovered more ballet stars than any other in the UK.

“The Skelton Hooper School of Dance has sent what is believed to be a record 24 pupils to the Royal Ballet School, including the current head of The Royal Ballet, Kevin O’Hare.

“As a tribute to the city’s dance heritage, O’Hare is taking his company to Hull for the first time in 30 years. He will stage a gala performance starring Xander Parish, star soloist with Russia’s Mariinsky Ballet and another former pupil. …

“ ‘For me, Hull-born, bringing the Royal Ballet up to Hull for this special opening performance is fantastic,’ said O’Hare. … O’Hare and his brother, Michael, who is now senior ballet master with Birmingham Royal Ballet, studied at Skelton Hooper. …

“The school was founded by the late Vera Skelton and is now run by her daughter, Vanessa Hooper. ‘My mother trained most of the teachers we have. She was quite extraordinary — the first person to get someone into the Royal Ballet from the provinces,’ said Hooper, who charges just £3.75 a lesson. …

“Hooper said there is something special about the city. ‘Hull’s a difficult place to get to. You’ve got to go there out of curiosity,’ she said. ‘We’ve had to build our own little world on the periphery.’ ”

More here.

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My husband has found some of his best reading-list ideas after checking out the obits. Sometimes I find blog stories there. This one is about a ballet dancer who brought her art to the desert.

The Associated Press reported, “Marta Becket, a dancer and artist who spent decades presenting one-woman shows at a remote Mojave Desert hall that she made famous as the Amargosa Opera House, died Jan. 30 at her home in Death Valley Junction, Calif. She was 92.

“A New York City native, she had performed on Broadway and at Radio City Music Hall. A flat tire during a 1967 camping trip with her husband to Death Valley, changed her life.

“They discovered an abandoned theater in a mining town. The couple rented the building, and Marta Becket made her debut in 1968 at the renamed Amargosa Opera House. In the beginning, only the three Mormon families who lived in the town at that time came to watch.

“The nearest town is 23 miles away from the opera house, but audiences filled its 114 theater seats so many times over the years that extra chairs sometimes had to be brought in.

“Ms. Becket wrote songs and dialogue, sewed costumes, and painted sets. She danced every Monday, Friday, and Saturday whether the house was full or empty. …

‘‘ ‘I love dance. I love ballet. It’s the world I want,’ she said in 2001. ‘It’s mystifying. I feel as if this is what I was intended to do.’’ …

“Her story was captured in 2000 in the award-winning documentary ‘Amargosa.’ ” More here.

I love that she danced even if there was no audience. That’s art.

Photo: AM Morris/The Las Vegas Sun
Marta Becket danced en pointe during the inaugural performance of “Masquerade” at the Amargosa Opera House.

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Photo: Arnaud Stephenson
Perfectly timed movements create the illusion of weightlessness in performances that combine ballet and juggling.

Artists always seem to be looking for new forms of expression. The Washington Post recently reported on a production that increases the challenges of two precise kinds of movement by performing them in tandem.

Sadie Dingfelder spoke with Sean Gandini, “the creator, the director and one of the performers of ‘4×4: Ephemeral Architectures,’ a mesmerizing clockwork of human bodies and juggling objects flying through space. …

“In the months of rehearsals that took place before the piece’s London premiere in 2015, there were plenty of unintentional ballerina clubbings. …

“When the touring group arrives at a new venue, the first thing the performers do is mark the stage with 60 pieces of colored tape. That’s about twice as many marks as other performances, [and] getting the measurements exactly right is crucial. …

“ ‘I called the show “Ephemeral Architectures” because it’s what I think dancers and jugglers have in common — we are both creating traces in the air, traces that only last for an instant, and then they are gone,’ Gandini says. …

“Despite the challenges, the performers of ‘4×4′ have dropped only a few balls in hundreds of performances,’ [Emma Lister, the show’s artistic coordinator and one of the dancers] says. Additionally, all of the dancers have picked up some juggling skills, and the jugglers have gotten into ballet.

“The marriage of juggling and ballet in ‘4×4: Ephemeral Architectures’ has been so successful, it resulted in one actual marriage. Six months ago, artistic coordinator Emma Lister tied the knot with juggler Sakari Mannisto. The two are now working on a new show together that combines their art forms.

” ‘Being married to a juggler has practical advantages as well as creative ones,’ Lister says.

“ ‘If I’m on the other side of the room and I want to toss him the car keys, I can make any kind of wild throw and he’ll catch it,’ she says. ‘On a day-to-day basis, it can be quite handy.’ ” More here.

I keep thinking that, for better or worse, this period in history should be fertile for artists seeking challenges — and should elicit many forms of juggling.

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