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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.

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In case you missed NPR's Weekend Edition today, you might like to check out this 
nice blues story.

"In a residential neighborhood in Bessemer, Ala.,about 20 miles from Birmingham, 
sits a blues lover's dream: an honest-to-goodness juke joint. Gip's Place is one 
of a precious few musical roadhouses still hanging on in this country. . . .

"Gipson has celebrated his 86th birthday about five or six times, we're told. In 
those years, he says, he's been struck by lightning and run over in a stampede. 
A singer who retired from the railroad, he's a gravedigger who owns a cemetery.


"Gipson has always been famous for his hospitality, whether it be with the locals 
he's known for decades or the wide-eyed college kids just discovering some gut-
bucket blues. When he opened his place back in 1952, it was little more than a 
glorified tent. Now, still several degrees removed from spiffy, the roadhouse 
has been fixed up — but not so much that it's lost its down-home appeal, says 
guitar player Lenny Madden, who functions as the house emcee."

Apparently people from all walks of life hang out there to enjoy the music and 
dance. And top-name performers are happy to just pass the hat and take whatever 
because it's such an awesome venue.

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