Feeds:
Posts
Comments

Posts Tagged ‘ballet’

Six-Foot Tutus

Photo: Tyrone Singleton
Birmingham Royal Ballet dancers rehearsing in their socially distanced costumes.

Never underestimate the power of artists to work around obstacles! In today’s story, a dancer, a choreographer, and a costume designer figured out a socially distanced way to get dancers back to dancing. Anna Bailey reported the story at BBC Radio.

“Acclaimed Cuban ballet star Carlos Acosta says ‘it feels great’ to be venturing back to staging indoor performances for a live audience in the UK after months of being prohibited from doing so because of the pandemic.

” ‘It feels great because we’ve been in lockdown for far too long and it’s a kind of career where if you don’t exercise your body for a week you go back and pay for it,’ says Acosta. …

“Acosta and the Birmingham Royal Ballet are following in the footsteps of The Royal Ballet in London which recently performed in front of a live audience in a reduced capacity auditorium.

“But Acosta is going one step further by introducing socially distanced costumes in the form of extra wide tutus for the brand-new mixed bill Lazuli Sky.

“It is the first one-act ballet commissioned and presented by Acosta since he took over as director of the Birmingham company at the start of the year. It is also due to be performed at Sadler’s Wells in London at the end of [October and online Nov. 1].

” ‘When we started, we wanted a piece where nobody would touch each other and so the dancers will be wearing elongated structures that are not static but are constantly moving and creating different shapes, evoking your imagination,’ explains Acosta about the spiral-shaped costumes. …

” They’re great in terms of aesthetic and a record of the time that we live in,’ Acosta adds.

“He has devised Lazuli Sky with the help of his designer Samuel Wyer and the award-winning choreographer Will Tuckett.

The influence for their costumes came from the crinoline skirts worn by fashionable women in the 19th Century to protect themselves from smallpox, cholera – and unwanted male advances. …

” ‘The tutu has always been a socially distanced piece of clothing; a stiff skirt that sticks out half a metre from your body. So it’s taking that idea and going “let’s just push it a little bit further,” ‘ says Tuckett. ‘The movement is dictated by them and the dancers have been fantastically adaptive and collaborative. Both male and female dancers wear them and so far there have been no upsets.’ …

“In Tuckett’s production the tutus with [6.5-foot] trains will also act as part of the set, as the production crew are unable to move props during performances due to the risks of the virus.

” ‘We’ll be projecting images onto the skirts,’ says Tuckett, ‘and when the dancers come out on stage it’s hypnotic and other worldly. They also look like sails and flowers when they all open out, they completely fill the space.’

“Nature is at the heart of Lazuli Sky, which stands for ‘bright blue sky’ and focuses on the upsides of the pandemic, such as open skies and birdsong, rather than the downsides. …

” ‘It’s incredible, there were no planes flying, levels of contamination and pollution dropped, and I got to see the beauty of it all,’ says Acosta [of his time in quarantine]. ‘I just hope that people will take notice of this and try and find a solution to help the planet. We want to give people hope.’ …

” ‘It’s unnatural for human beings not to touch and we have this tribal aspect of who we are to be social beings and our art form has always been about interaction physically,’ he says. ‘If you take that away from us, I’m not sure what kind of art form you would get if you’re not able to do Sleeping Beauty touching each other.

” ‘But we will wear masks on stage if we have to, and the dancers and musicians are very disciplined, we take ourselves very seriously in that regard.’ …

“So, is he the man to champion bringing ballet back during the pandemic, particularly having overcome his own challenges growing up in Cuba?

” ‘Well yeah, I just want for the people, especially those in Birmingham, to try and break the stigma that ballet is yesterday and something distant,’ he says. ‘My story, everybody has heard it and what ballet has done for me, and I want to bring that same enthusiasm to everybody, challenge people’s perceptions and do the best I can to achieve diversity and a healthy turnout of audiences from different backgrounds.’ “

More at the BBC, here.

Read Full Post »

Few things equal the joy of dancing, as I keep learning from my 5-year-old granddaughter and the videos Suzanne and Erik send of her living-room performances. They make me want to get up and boogie, too.

A teacher in Africa who loves ballet thought, Why not? There may be no ballet in Nigeria, but kids need to dance.

As Noor Brara explains at the New York Times, “In June, a minute-long video featuring a young ballet student dancing in the rain began circulating on the internet. As the rain falls, forming puddles between the uneven slabs of concrete on which he dances, Anthony Mmesoma Madu, 11, turns pirouette after pirouette.

“Though the conditions for such dancing are all wrong — dangerous, even — he twirls on, flying barefoot into an arabesque and landing it. …

“The wide reach of the video — it has been seen more than 20 million times on social media platforms — has turned a spotlight on the unlikely story of a ballet school in a poor suburb of Lagos, Nigeria: the Leap of Dance Academy.

“Founded in 2017, the academy has transformed the lives of its students, affording them a place to dance and to dream. And in the last few months, it has inspired influential people in ballet to lend a hand. Seemingly overnight, a world of opportunity has opened up: for the students, scholarships and invitations to attend prestigious schools and companies overseas; and for the school, sizable donations, which will allow for building a proper space, outfitted with a real dance floor.

“For now, the Leap of Dance Academy is housed at the home of its founder, Daniel Owoseni Ajala, in Ajangbadi, Ojo, on the western outskirts of Lagos. Every day after school, Mr. Ajala’s 12 students walk to his apartment, where he pushes aside his furniture and spreads a thin vinyl sheet over the concrete floor for class, throwing open the doors and windows to let in the light. …

“Much of this is filmed and posted to the school’s Instagram feed, where the students’ joy is evident in each video, their movements precise and praiseworthy — as the comments, hearts and trembling star emojis left by their fans attest. …

” ‘In the beginning, people kept saying, “What are they doing?!” ‘ Mr. Ajala said. ‘I had to convince them that ballet wasn’t a bad or indecent dance, but actually something that requires a lot of discipline that would have positive effects on the lives of their children outside the classroom. I always say, it’s not only about the dance itself — it’s about the value of dance education.’

“When Mr. Ajala, 29, founded Leap of Dance three years ago, he was a self-taught recreational dancer with a dream: to open a ballet school for students who were serious about learning the art form and possibly pursuing it professionally one day. …

“As a child, Mr. Ajala became obsessed with ballet after watching “Save the Last Dance,” the 2001 movie about a lapsed ballet dancer (Julia Stiles) who moves to the South Side of Chicago after her mother dies …

“Mr. Ajala said he was captivated by the movement he saw onscreen and, perhaps even more, by the discipline and sacrifice that was evidently required to master it. Ballet appealed to him for another reason, too: It wasn’t widely taught or practiced in Nigeria. ‘I wanted to be different,’ he said. …

“Mr. Ajala’s role in the lives of his students goes beyond dance; he is invested in their whole development. One day a week class is dedicated solely to academics; the students come to the academy with their homework, with Mr. Ajala providing one-on-one tutoring as needed. They practice speaking, reading and writing in English together. And between lessons, which run from mid afternoon to early evening, he cooks them a meal. …

“Recently, too, the students have begun learning conversational Spanish, Italian and Chinese from their ballet teachers abroad, like [Thalema Williams, in St. Croix, and Mary Hubbs, in Brooklyn, Mich., who gave him lessons online to improve his technique]. ‘I want the kids to be able to relate to people internationally,’ Mr. Ajala said.”

At the Times, here, you can read how he manages to keep the ballet classes free. Very inspiring story.

Photo: Stephen Tayo for the New York Times
Anthony Mmesoma Madu, left, with fellow students from the Leap of Dance Academy, in Ajangbadi, Ojo, Nigeria.

Read Full Post »

kitty-photo-by-russell-haydn-for-sod

Photo: Russell Haydn
Kitty Lunn, New Orleans ballerina who refused to let paralysis stop her.

Lately, I’ve seen a number of articles about incorporating more artists with disabilities into the theater and dance worlds. Ballerina Kitty Lunn didn’t set out to be an advocate in that movement, but after a paralyzing accident, she took charge of her future in way that helps others.

As reporter Erika Ferrando says at 4WWL television in New Orleans, “A ballerina embodies grace, control, and beauty. It takes years of practice and few are ever able to dance as a profession. For dancers, that’s the dream.

“What if that dream was achieved, then stolen? What if it no longer seemed possible for a dancer to dance? That’s what happened to Kitty Lunn and it’s been her mission ever since to overcome.

‘Life is a choice. We can either live while we’re alive or wait to die,’ said Lunn, who is now almost 70-year-old.

“Life is full of choices. Lunn always chose to dance even when it seemed she had no choice but to give up her dream. …

“Lunn trained in her hometown of New Orleans until she was 15, when her work here led to a scholarship with the Washington Ballet. She was living her dream. …

“She was 36-years-old, preparing for her first Broadway show when it all changed. …

“Lunn slipped on ice and fell down a flight of stairs, breaking her neck and back. The accident put her in a wheelchair for the rest of her life.

” ‘I was very depressed because I had been a dancer since I was 8-years-old. I had to find a way,’ Lunn said.

“She had just started dating the man she would marry, Andrew. …

” ‘Andrew said, spoken like a true non dancer, said if you want to dance, who is stopping you? I was stopping me, fear was stopping me,’ Lunn said. …

 Photo: Dan Demetriad

kittylunn226-1

” ‘I went back to class I put my money on the table. They had to let me in, I had the ADA behind me,’ she said. …

“Surrounded by world class ballet dancers, she was forced to break down barriers.

” ‘They said ‘well you can come in, but you’re on probation. If anyone complains, you’ll have to leave. Many people have complained and I didn’t leave,’ Lunn said.

“In 1995, Lunn founded Infinity Dance Theater in New York. It’s a non-traditional dance company featuring dancers with and without disabilities. The company performs all over the world. …

“Kitty Lunn visited New Orleans this month to help launch a program that keeps veterans moving. The New Orleans VA partnered with the New Orleans Ballet Association for ‘Freedom of Movement’ classes. The program is for veterans, wheelchair-users or not, teaching them to keep moving and dancing.

” ‘It helps me move joints that are a little difficult to move,’ veteran Tina Boquet said. ‘Although I may not be able to do things like I did before my accident, I am still able to move.’

“Now Lunn travels the world teaching others to move, despite anything trying to hold them back.

” ‘I learned that the dancer inside me doesn’t care about this wheelchair. She just wanted to find a way to keep dancing,’ she said. “I think I’m living the life I was born to live. That was an accident, this is a choice.’ ”

More at 4WWL, here, and at Infinity Dance Theater, here.

Read Full Post »

snowflake1110

Photo: Brian Feulner, Special to the Chronicle
Joan Vickers, 92, was a snowflake in the first production of San Francisco Ballet’s “Nutcracker” in 1944.

I was surprised to learn that the “Nutcracker” ballet — which my youngest granddaughter and thousands of little girls and boys around the world were part of this past Christmas — was first performed in the United States in 1944. I guess I thought it was eternal. How could there ever have been a time that the “Nutcracker” was not performed at Christmas? But such is the case. And every ballet company that performs it now does something different to make the event its own.

Sam Whiting reports at the San Francisco Chronicle, “It was wartime 1944 when San Francisco first felt the magic of a Christmas Eve snowfall. It lasted 10 minutes, and Joan Vickers remembers it clearly.

“Vickers was in the first full-length ‘Nutcracker’ to be staged in America, a San Francisco Ballet production at the War Memorial Opera House. Act 1 ended in the Land of the Snowflakes, according to the program, and there were no special effects. There was only a 17-year-old Vickers and 15 other corps members dressed in white. They each held a stick with a white star at the tip of it, and they waved them around like sparklers.

“ ‘We became the snow,’ said the now 92-year-old Vickers, from her home in Alameda. ‘The audience was amazed and in awe.’

“Bay Area audiences continue to be in awe as the holiday tradition continues, and the snow scene has only intensified over the decades. ‘Nutcracker’ has been updated four times — in 1954, 1967, 1986 and 2004 — with the last revision orchestrated by Artistic Director Helgi Tomasson, who took the setting from snowbound 19th century Europe to 20th century San Francisco … when a jeweled city rose straight out of the sand to form the Panama-Pacific International Exposition.

“Despite the Mediterranean climate, the snow still falls, though in this production, it comes in the form of 600 pounds of confetti dropped from the fly space by a six-person crew. …

“ ‘As a child (in Iceland), I was always amazed at what a snowstorm can look like and how monumental and beautiful they can be,’ said Tomasson by email from Copenhagen, where the company was on tour. ‘I wanted to re-create that personal memory for San Francisco.’

“The snow falls with a ferocity probably unmatched by any other production of ‘Nutcracker,’ which premiered in St. Petersburg in 1892 with an original score by Tchaikovsky and is now revived in some form each Christmas season by just about every ballet company.

“The ‘Waltz of the Snowflakes’ is so beloved that it has its own YouTube category. … In San Francisco it comes down like it does in the film ‘McCabe & Mrs. Miller,’ which is to say once it starts it doesn’t stop. It gets in the hair and the eyelashes of the dancers, and piles up on the floor to slicken the stage. …

“Jasmine Jimison, a 17-year-old member of the corps de ballet, said it can be arduous to dance upon ‘the snow’ each night, even with caking her slippers in rosin to take the stage.

“ ‘Dancing in the snow scene is an experience like no other. It’s scary and exciting at the same time,’ said Jimison, also reached in Copenhagen last week. ‘There’s always the stress of not slipping or having enough stamina, especially once the snow starts falling really hard toward the end. I’m so exhausted by that point that my legs feel like Jell-O and I can barely see, but adrenaline helps push me through, and the escalating music adds to it.’ …

“Artistic Director Willam Christensen designed [the first US ‘Nutcracker’] as a one-season production inspired by a San Francisco visit by George Balanchine in the fall of 1944. Balanchine had danced in the full-length production of ‘Nutcracker’ in Russia and encouraged Christensen to create his own. …

“The restrictions of the war effort necessitated that budgets and materials were tight. There was only $1,000 allotted for costumes … so all of the red velvet for the outfits came from the curtain of the Cort Theater on Ellis Street, which had been demolished. … The opera house was under a blackout order, and air raid wardens were in the audience ready to blow their whistles.

“The production then went on the road to Oakland, Sacramento and Stockton, and that was to be the end of it. The following Christmas, Christensen mounted ‘Hansel and Gretel’ and ‘it was a failure,’ Vickers said. They tried other productions, but nothing else worked, so in 1948 Christensen brought back ‘Nutcracker’ for good.”

More.

Read Full Post »

1570912830780Photo: Chris McKeen/Stuff
The woman above, who participates in a New Zealand prison’s ballet class, says the dancing made her happy. She says she plans to take some of her new skills into her future on the outside.

In New Zealand, officials in a women’s prison have found that ballet may not only provide structure and discipline to people who need help with self-control: it may also provide happiness.

Caroline Williams writes at Stuff, “Barbed wire fences, concrete cells and a focus on hard punishment are a thing of the past at the Auckland Region Women’s Corrections Facility. Instead, it’s open spaces and restorative rehabilitation in the form of classical music and contemporary ballet.

“Since 2017, inmates at men’s and women’s prisons in Wellington and Christchurch have enjoyed a more refined approach to restorative justice, thanks to a Royal New Zealand Ballet [RNZB] initiative to make the art form more accessible.

“Before prison, some of the women had had to ‘be staunch’ their whole lives, RNZB corporate development manager Diane Field said. The ballet program had allowed them to feel free and feminine.

“[In October], the first group of women to take the course in Auckland graduated in front of an audience of RNZB representatives and prison staff, with choreography including repertoire from past RNZB productions Megalopolis, Cacti, Artemis Rising and Black Swan, White Swan.

“The seven women beamed with pride as they completed the performances with few mistakes — a pretty good effort for only 10 and a half hours of practice spread over eight weeks, with a week lost in the middle due to a measles scare. …

“One said the certificate given to her at a graduation ceremony made her feel like she’d accomplished something. … Another said the classes had shaped her into ‘a totally different person’ after never having engaged in sport or dance before her conviction.

“While the dancing ‘made her happy,’ she accepted it was part of her punishment and would take something from the experience into her future. She hoped to pursue a career in fitness upon her release from the facility. … ‘Little things from outsiders make a big difference for us.’

“All the inmates interviewed by Stuff said they would like to take dance classes again and would encourage other inmates to have a go.

“RNZB senior dance educator Pagan Dorgan taught prison programmes in Wellington and Christchurch, but said the women in Auckland had a particular flair for movement.

‘Every week you can just see them become more confident. With confidence comes the drive to want to get better. They’re very engaged and very present.’

“Dorgan, who usually taught dance in schools, … adjusted her teaching style to accommodate for the inmates, including allowances for chatter and freedom for the women to work in their own groups. But she insisted she hadn’t made it easy for the women.

” ‘The more you see them develop, the more you can push.’

“Prison director Steve Park said … [it’s a credit] to the women to put their name forward for the programme.”

I had thought of “restorative justice” as an effort on the part of a wrongdoer to “restore” what they had taken from someone else in committing a crime. But of course, it’s also about restoring criminals to their better selves. Good to know that ballet can help.

More at Stuff, here.

Read Full Post »

image-1

Photo: Thomas Armour Youth Ballet
An unusual ballet company in Miami provides ballet, reading, math and etiquette classes along with access to mental health professionals as needed.

In the fall, my younger granddaughter will start ballet lessons in Rhode Island. “I’m going to be on the stage,” she announced to my neighbor. I’m not sure what, at age 4, ballet classes mean to her, but they have a mighty big aura.

In Miami, an unusual ballet company has been growing an even bigger aura. Thomas Armour Youth Ballet offers dance lessons, yes, but as I learned from this Miami Herald article by Rodolfo Roman, its goals extend well beyond dance.

“When sports journalist Claudia Chang Trejos faced a difficult period in her life, an after-school ballet program helped her overcome obstacles.

“Now, her daughter, Glades Middle School student Sophia Chang Trejos, 14, is following her mother, attending the after-school program at the Thomas Armour Youth Ballet in South Miami.

“The program provides ballet, reading, math and etiquette classes along with access to mental health professionals [and] delivers professionally taught dance classes in multiple genres, at little or no cost to 500 students ages 5-11.

” ‘When she started, I was going through a nasty divorce,’ Claudia said. ‘We were broke. I had no one to help me out with Sophia, so this was a place she could go to, and go with her peers. I went to work and I had a peace of mind.’ …

“ ‘Ballet is not for everybody,’ said Sophia, who credits the program with her getting into the New World School of Arts, the Miami-Dade arts magnet high school, where she will start in the fall.

“ ‘You can start when you are 4 and love it, but when you grow, the technique gets harder and that’s when people quit. What I like about ballet is it’s a different way to train a person. I like the music and the way people are when you are dancing. It is like a movie.’ …

“Director Ruth Wiesen said the program’s goal is to be a vehicle of success.

“ ‘Every now and then, I step back and I am shocked we are able to see these kids succeed and coming back to Miami,’ she said. ‘That is the biggest thrill. They come back, settle down and act like role models.’ …

“No matter what her future holds, Sophia said the program will always have a place in her heart.

“ ‘I plan on coming back when I am older, and teach classes to give back,’ she said.”

More at the Miami Herald, here.

Read Full Post »

plie-project

Photos: The Plié Project
Annalisa Cianci of Teatro dell’Opera di Roma models a paper tutu for a project highlighting diversity in dance.

Did you ever see the intriguing documentary by Vanessa Gould called Between the Folds? It’s about origami masters, and my husband and I heard about it because Vanessa’s parents lived in our town.

I have never advanced in origami myself — folded fortune-tellers are about as far as I go — but I have great admiration for artists practicing the craft. And not long ago I read an astonishing story about a project involving origami ballet costumes.

Leah Collins wrote at CBC Arts, “On paper, it’s a partnership that doesn’t immediately make sense. Pauline Loctin (a.k.a. Miss Cloudy) is an origami artist and self-described ‘folding warrior.’ Melika Dez is a photographer, one who specializes in capturing dancers in action. And around this time last year, the Montreal-based artists began collaborating on something they call the Plié Project: an ongoing series of photographs featuring dancers from internationally famed companies, all wearing original, hand-folded costumes by Loctin.

” ‘Paper is kind of fragile, but at the same time, it’s a very strong material,’ says Dez. Beauty and strength and fragility, all in one: that’s how you describe a dancer, right there. But who gets to be those things? …

” ‘In a world where the ballerina “has to look” a certain way, we decided to showcase the beauty of these unconventional but extremely talented dancers and break the boundaries of stereotypes.’

Amanda Smith, Daphne M. Lee and Yinet Fernandez Salisbury of Dance Theatre of Harlem and Dandara Amorim Veiga of Ballet Hispanico. 

plie-project

“Both artists have personal ties to the ballet, which partly explains their interest in the message. Loctin’s previous career was in classical music. The ballet, she explains, was always connected to her work. Dez is a dancer herself, and as a photographer, she shoots companies around the world, including the Black Iris Project in New York City.

” ‘In my work, I’m used to working with diverse people,’ says Dez. ‘There’s a wave of change that is happening in the dance world and it was important to me to push it forward because I myself, I’m a mix.’ …

” ‘There is a paper colour for every girl. … It was just an important message for me to put out there. For little girls to know that anything is possible no matter if they’re Black, white, Asian, Latina — anything is possible. They can do whatever they want as long as they put their heart into it.’ ”

More at CBC, here. There’s a terrific array of photos at the site.

Mai Kono of Les Grands Ballets. 

mai-kono-of-les-grands-ballets

Read Full Post »

prosthetic-ballet-leg-design_dezeen_2364_hero-1-1704x959

Photo: Dezeen
A new prosthetic leg allows an amputee ballet dancer to go on pointe. The designer imagines whole dances on pointe.

Generations of little girls in my family have taken ballet classes, and probably each of them has spent more than an hour or two dreaming of life as a prima ballerina. After a while, though, little girls get interested in something else or the challenges become too daunting.

Now imagine just how daunting it would be for an amputee who is determined to dance.

Ali Morris writes at the design magazine Dezeen, “Pratt Institute graduate Jae-Hyun An has created a prosthetic leg that allows amputees to perform ballet like never before.

“Unlike regular artificial limbs, which are designed to mimic the human body, the Marie-T enables amputee ballet dancers to enhance their performance.

“Made up of three components, Marie-T features a weighty foam-injected rotational moulded foot, with a stainless-steel toe and rubber grip that help provide the dancer with balance and momentum during rotations.

“In mainstream ballet, dancers typically move in and out of the pointe position – when all body weight is supported by the tips of fully extended feet within pointe shoes.

“However, because of the immense strain on the foot and ankle of a performer, it is impossible for a ballet dancer to constantly perform in this position.

“Jae-Hyun An, who studied on the Pratt’s Industrial Design programme, designed the carbon-fibre Marie-T to enable amputees to dance on pointe throughout a performance.

“New York-based An said the design, which is named after 19th-century Swedish ballet dancer Marie Taglioni, could encourage amputees to develop a new choreography that has never been achieved by mainstream ballerinas.

” ‘I wanted to explore what would happen if you could allow a person to perform on pointe 100 per cent of the time,’ said An, who developed Marie-T over the course of four months. …

“During research, An realised that a weak ankle can twist and cause a ballerina in pointe position to wobble. In response, An designed a strong and stable ankle area that helps the ballerina stay in balance.

“The ankle connects to a slightly curved carbon-fibre limb which helps absorb the shock from the impact of the ballet dancer stepping forward. The limb is topped by a 3D-printed socket with steel round head screws.

“Ill-fitting prosthetic limbs can cause blisters and rashes on dancers, so An designed the Marie-T so that the parts can be easily switched out when they become well worn or need to be resized. …

” ‘In my research I came across Viktoria Modesta and she re-interpreted performance with her prosthetics. It was visually so powerful and opened a completely new area of prosthetics for me. I fell in love with the idea of designing something that could expand the artistic and cultural scene of a community with prosthetic users.’

“To continue developing this project in the future, An hopes to collaborate with an amputee dancer who has their own vision for prosthetic ballet.

” ‘The design of the prosthesis will change to fit the dancer, but also to match the specific movements of the newly developed choreography,’ he explained. ‘However, until I meet this dancer, I will continue to develop as a designer.’ ”

More at Dezeen, here.

Read Full Post »

methode2ftimes2fprod2fweb2fbin2f7bfa7a70-aa3c-11e8-8404-0bee60a6f70d

Photo: James Glossop
Scottish Ballet expands Dance for Parkinson’s classes to cities across the country.

The class that comes right before my Essentrics stretch class on Thursdays is for people with Parkinson’s. The participants seem to enjoy it. One man, who is said to be over 100, routinely leaves the class with a smile on his face.

Exercise classes for people with Parkinson’s are not new, but there are always new locations offering them and new techniques to help people keep moving. Consider, for example, this report from Scotland, where the Scottish Ballet has a program.

Jeremy Watson writes at the Times, “Research has shown that dance can help people with the degenerative disease physically, mentally and socially. [At the Scottish Ballet,] staff and volunteers help participants develop movement skills with particular emphasis on fluidity, balance, co-ordination and posture. The sessions include activities focused on problem solving, improvisation, vocal skills, memory and multi-tasking.”

The Scottish Ballet website adds background. “Established in 2016, the Dance for Parkinson’s Scotland programme supports those with Parkinson’s to experience the benefits of dance and creativity — improving balance, spatial awareness, confidence and fluidity in movement. Every week, around 75 participants take part in sessions delivered by Scottish Ballet in Glasgow and Dance Base in Edinburgh. …

“The warm and informal Dance for Parkinson’s Scotland classes feature elements of ballet and contemporary dance with a focus on Scottish Ballet’s repertoire. Using the themes and movement from current productions, specially trained Scottish Ballet and Dance Base Dance Artists lead participants to develop movement skills with particular focus on fluidity of movement, balance, coordination, expression, posture and rhythm.”

The Edinburgh Parkinson’s site says that the aims of the classes “are to

* wake up stiff muscles and improve flexibility,
* encourage mind-body connection,
* improve co-ordination and balance, and
* increase self-awareness and self-esteem
* in a supportive and joyful environment

“The social time at the end of each session is a chance to make connections and feel part of the dance community. … The teachers have a wonderful sense of light-heartedness and fun which they bring to the classes. Live music is an essential ingredient, and we have a talented pianist, Robert Briggs, providing the accompaniment, so the music is used flexibly to encourage movement and development of sequences. …

“The original concept, arising from collaboration between the Mark Morris Dance Group and the Brooklyn Parkinson’s Group in New York, is now increasingly practised worldwide among the Parkinson’s community.”

Patients’ partners and caregivers attend the class that I’ve looked in on, and they are welcome to participate and get some exercise, too. The musical selections are great, but unlike in Scotland, there is not a live accompaniment.

Read Full Post »

636631935695391365-janel-meindersee-photo-social-candy-2

Photo: Social Candy
Milwaukee Ballet dancer and teacher, Janel Meindersee, tries out a wheelchair herself as she teaches her students. Parents watch with pride.

Heartbreaking as it is to see anyone make fun of a person with a disability, which does happen in these harsh times, it’s important to remember the advice that the mother of Mister Rogers gave him long ago: “Look for the helpers. There are always helpers.”

In Milwaukee, some unusual helpers are found in a dance company.

Amy Schwabe writes at Milwaukee’s Journal Sentinel, “Nine-year-old Namine Eiche may be in a wheelchair, but that doesn’t stop her from being a ballet dancer. That’s thanks to Tour de Force, a partnership between Milwaukee Ballet and Children’s Hospital of Wisconsin that’s been providing ballet classes to children with disabilities since 2014.

“Just last year, the opportunity was opened up to children in wheelchairs through the ‘Glissade’ class, very appropriately named since ‘glissade’ is the French word for ‘glide.’

“Janel Meindersee, a Milwaukee Ballet dancer who teaches Glissade, explained how the children are able to dance.

” ‘We teach a lot of the same things as a normal ballet class — how to spot your head when you move, the quality of arm movements, how to count music and how to stay in line when dancing together,’ Meindersee said. …

“Meindersee said that seeing kids in wheelchairs in other Tour de Force classes was the impetus for Glissade.

” ‘There was a girl in a wheelchair coming to one of our other Tour de Force classes,’ Meindersee said. ‘She was able to get out of her wheelchair sometimes, but she was most comfortable in her chair. We thought there had to be other kids who can’t even get out of their chairs at all. …

“After having taught two sessions of Glissade, Meindersee is ‘blown away’ by the skill, talent and strength of her students — especially when she gets in a wheelchair herself to try out the dance moves. She laughs with her students, pointing out that she’s not as skilled in wheelchair maneuvers as her students are.”

More at the Journal Sentinel, here. Just imagine the joy and self-confidence of these young dancers take home with them after a class. Perhaps some will join one of the professional wheelchair ballets someday. Or start their own company.

Read Full Post »

2016-635897543773346986-334

Photo: Magda Saleh collection
Egypt’s first prima ballerina, Magda Saleh, as she is today and in ballets of
the 1960s and 1970s.

I like to include stories about Egyptian culture whenever I see them because of my special connection to two naturalized citizens who were born in Egypt. Here is an intriguing New York Times article by Brian Seibert about an Egyptian who excelled at ballet and even performed with the Bolshoi in Moscow.

“Once upon a time, the Egyptian ballerina Magda Saleh danced the dream role of Giselle in Moscow as a guest star with the mighty Bolshoi Ballet. …

“Recently, in the elegant Upper East Side apartment that she shares with her husband, the American Egyptologist Jack Josephson, Ms. Saleh, 73, recounted how her life had been ‘punctuated’ by shifts in Egyptian political history. …

“In the era just before she was born, Egypt was no longer a protectorate of Britain, but British influence was still high. Her father, who would become a prominent academic, studied agriculture in Scotland and brought home a Scottish bride, Ms. Saleh’s mother. Their children spoke English and Arabic at home, French at school. …

“Her first ballet teachers were British, and she traveled to Britain to study ballet. By then, though, Egypt had undergone a revolution and soon it was at war with Britain. Young Ms. Saleh was called home, where she discovered that her British instructors had left.

“But the Egyptian government was now friendly with the Soviet Union, and new teachers arrived. In 1959, the Egyptian Ministry of Culture created an Academy of Arts, with a Higher Institute of Ballet, and imported teachers from the Bolshoi to run it.

” ‘This was unprecedented in Egyptian history,’ Ms. Saleh said. ‘We have this very ambiguous attitude toward dance and especially women dancers …

“ ‘None of this would have been possible,’ she continued, ‘but for a confluence of time and circumstance and one man, the first minister of culture’ — Tharwat Okasha, an army officer with vision and tenacity. …

“Ballet education came filtered through translation, with old Russians who had fled to Egypt during the Russian Revolution converting the instructions of the newly arrived Soviet dancers into broken Arabic.

“Yet the school developed rapidly, and in 1963, Ms. Saleh and four other female students were offered scholarships to study at the Bolshoi in Moscow. She was 19 — or ’19 going on 11,’ she said, ‘because we were so sheltered.’ Now they were on their own in the bitter cold of the grim Soviet capital, sitting on radiators before class to thaw. …

“The experience was tough. ‘But character forming,’ Ms. Saleh said. ‘The Russians taught us with love. Not love for us. Love for dance. They instilled this in us.’

“Back in Cairo, diplomas in hand, they wanted to dance. So the ballet institute mounted ‘The Fountain of Bakhchisarai,’ a 1934 Soviet ballet about a Polish princess abducted by a Tatar Khan. The Egyptian public loved it. The president, Gamal Abdel Nasser, awarded the dancers the Order of Merit.

“Even more meaningful to Ms. Saleh was the praise of a poor old man after a performance in the southern backwater of Aswan. ‘People had insisted that Egyptians wouldn’t accept Egyptian ballet,’ she recalled misty-eyed. ‘But we were right!’ ”

Read more and see some lovely pictures at the New York Times, here — and also here, at Ahramonline.

Read Full Post »

Photo: MediaPunch/REX/Shutterstock/
Prima ballerina Misty Copeland (right) and Raven Wilkinson at the Urban World Film Festival in New York City in 2015. Wilkinson has mentored many dancers since retiring from dancing at age 50.

Former ballerina Raven Wilkinson has shared her experiences — and her strength — with dancers of color since ending her own dancing career at age 50. She’s a great example of someone turning even bad experiences into something that sustains others.

Olivia B. Waxman writes at Time magazine, “In the years since she became the first black ballerina to be a principal dancer with the American Ballet Theatre, Misty Copeland has become a well-known symbol of breaking down barriers in her art. The strides she has made build on the work of one particular dancer — a mentor of Copeland’s, Raven Wilkinson, who broke new ground in similar ways during the 1950s. …

“Wilkinson’s passion for ballet began at an early age and would take her around the nation with the Ballet Russe de Monte Carlo. As the first African American ballerina to dance with a major touring troupe, she performed the coveted solo waltz in Les Sylphides.

“But her story — which is told in the new picture book Trailblazer: The Story of Ballerina Raven Wilkinson, written by Leda Schubert and illustrated by Theodore Taylor III … didn’t always feel like a fairy tale.

“Wilkinson, now 82, risked death and arrest by touring with the company in the South during a period when it was illegal for black and white dancers to share a stage. …

“As a native New Yorker, Wilkinson grew up only seeing the Ku Klux Klan in newsreels at the movie theater. It was through dance that she had her first real-life encounter with the group, in 1957 in Montgomery, Ala, while her company passed through the city on tour. …

“ ‘The KKK were everywhere. There was a convention,” Wilkinson recently recalled to TIME. “The [hotel] manager said, “You can’t dance tonight. Go to your room, stay in your room, lock the door, and don’t come out and don’t let anybody in.” ‘ There, she saw a cross burning outside her window. She says she wouldn’t have been able to get through … tense moments without her fellow dancers in the company. …

“After a brief stint in a convent to reflect on the path she had chosen, she moved to Europe, where it was easier for her to dance professionally. She danced with the Dutch National Ballet in Holland before returning to the States in 1974, where she danced with the New York City Opera until her retirement at age 50. …

“When TIME asked Copeland what has changed since Wilkinson was dancing professionally, she said ‘a lot is still so much the same. … We won’t be told to leave the company because our safety is at risk, but I had a similar experience being told to pancake my skin a lighter color to fit in with the rest of the company. … [Knowing Raven] made me feel really empowered not to let the negativity of racism even to this day affect me and my career. I can be strong and persevere and allow my talent to shine beyond the color of my skin.’ ”

It makes you think about the strength of character and the courage that barrier-breakers embody. The “poor, terrified girl” story melts away into the “young woman of steel” story.

More here.

Read Full Post »


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.

Read Full Post »

Vermont’s Farm Ballet

dsc07595_orig

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.

Read Full Post »


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.

Read Full Post »

Older Posts »

%d bloggers like this: