Category Archives: Dance

Joss Arnott Dance’s Dark Angel Tour

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The New Realities project by Dep Arts, designed to attract new audiences to contemporary dance across Yorkshire, recently brought Joss Arnott Dance to the Stanley and Audrey Burton theatre to perform their Dark Angel tour. As I’ve seen a few Phoenix Dance and other shows there, and really like it as a venue, I leapt at the chance to go and enjoy the performance last week.

In a lovely local touch, the curtain raiser was a piece choreographed by Arnott and danced by students from Leeds City College. They all did brilliantly well, in particular the young man who opened and closed the performance, although I must apologise – I can’t name check him as I don’t have a list of the dancers!

The Dark Angel Tour proper is three pieces, opening with Origin. This was danced by Arnott himself and was unquestionably my highlight of the night. It’s a short piece but completely enthralling: I couldn’t tear my eyes away from the stage. Arnott travels to the limits of what his body can do, contorting and gyrating as a pool of light slowly spread across the stage. He assumes unexpected, uncomfortable positions but maintains a fluid movement and makes the whole thing look completely effortless. The overall effect is mesmerising and I wasn’t surprised to hear a buzz of excitement in the seats around me as the curtain fell. Of the whole showcase, this is the piece that has stayed with me over the past week, as I remember the strange, unconventional beauty of the movements and the scene.

The next two pieces were danced by the all female company. It’s hard not to group 24 and Threshold together in my mind as I felt they shared very similar aesthetics and even themes. They both explore the female body and beauty in an incredibly dynamic, aggressive and powerful way, using tribal beats and violence and darkness. There are beautiful solos and glorious duets but the company was at its best when everyone was moving in perfect, mind numbing unison to the persistent beat of an invisible drum. To call it watchable is a huge understatement: it was hypnotising. Where Origin is about introspection and our relationship with ourselves, 24 and Threshold seem to be more interested in society’s relationship with our bodies and the way we interact with each other.

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A real wow factor for me was the physicality of the dancers. They did some incredible contortions, jumps and flips, sometimes leaping into the air and landing on their knees without any suggestion that it might have been difficult or painful, while the audience visibly flinched. It was amazing to watch and the young dance students sat near me were absolutely gobsmacked! It was so lovely watching them be inspired by dancers who are living their dreams: I only hope that funding cuts or a lack of support for dance don’t stand in the way of this next generation.

The Dark Angel Tour by Joss Arnott Dance will be at the Wakefield Theatre Royal on 11th May 2013 and Barnsley Civic on 1st June 2013.

I was given a free ticket for this event.

Images courtesy of Dep Arts and Joss Arnott Dance

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Matthew Bourne’s Sleeping Beauty at the Bradford Alhambra

Recently I’ve stumbled across a new friend who shares my love for theatre, ballet and other such cultural endeavours. Last night we took a trip out to Bradford for that classic (or not) combination of curry and a ballet, since Matthew Bourne’s Sleeping Beauty is on at the Alhambra, and it’s just rude to schlep all the way to Bradford without having a curry.

The first two acts of this interpretation are relatively conventional. A childless King and Queen turn to a dark sorceress, Carabosse, who presents them with a daughter. However, Carambosse doesn’t feel she has been sufficiently rewarded for her deed, and so places a curse on Aurora.

21 years later, a fey, capricious Aurora comes of age, and is discovering an illicit love with the gamekeeper at the palace. Carabosse has long since died, and it is believed her curse has died with her. However, her son, Caradoc, is still at large and crashes Aurora’s 21st to wreak vengeance and fulfil Carabosse’s curse. Spoilsport.

This leaves gamekeeper Leo at something of a loose end: he will grow old while his love remains 21 for the next century. Luckily, Count Lilac, King of the Fairies intervenes by turning Leo into a vampire, so he can wait out the next 100 years in a tent outside Aurora’s palace. When she wakes, he finds that if he wants to rekindle his romance, he’ll have to get Caradoc out of the way first.

The visuals here are outrageously fine. The costumes are the kind you wish you could reach out and touch, particularly the fairies’ corseted dresses that flare out into ornate, layered silken rags, and the blood red velvet that Caradoc and his associates wear at the neon lit underground party in Act Three. The set retains heavy golden pillars in the foreground throughout, but other than that transforms from an austere nursery, to an afternoon garden party, to an enchanted, dreamlike woodland. Every lift of the curtain brings something new to marvel at, although the star, props wise, has to be the ingenious puppet used to play baby Aurora. She scuttles around the stage, sulkilly slaps at her parents and even climbs up the curtains to escape her nanny in a sequence that had the audience rolling with laughter.

Ashley Shaw, dancing Aurora, is a delight: she acts as well as she dances and moves so lightly that she’s barely there. She brings life to what could be seen as a fairly passive role, by infusing her movements with energy and playfulness. One of the most memorable dances is a little pas de trois with Shaw and two of Carabosse’s henchmen in which she is neat, light and a joy to watch. Dominic North as Leo was fine, but unfortunately he doesn’t give you much to root for, coming across as a bit wet next to Ben Bunce’s dark, charismatic Caradoc. Bunce is a force to be reckoned with on the stage, graceful and quick despite being tall and broad. Caradoc and Aurora have a raw, sexual chemistry, and by the time they’d danced for a couple of minutes I could barely remember the saccharine, innocent duet between Aurora and Leo.

Bourne has spoken of a reluctance to complete his Tchaikovsky trilogy by performing Sleeping Beauty, because the story didn’t really speak to him. He seems to have approached it now only because of a perceived debt to the composer, and a desire to collect the set. This does show somewhat, as the narrative gets a little weaker toward the end, but it’s easily forgivable; in fact, there’s so much going on that you might not even notice. Bourne truly plunders the gothic theme, to create a spectacle that is rich, dark and sexy. The whole thing is really good fun to watch, whether you’re a ballet aficionado or a total newbie.

Sleeping Beauty is at the Bradford Alhambra until Saturday 26th March.

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Northern Ballet’s The Great Gatsby at Leeds Grand Theatre

NorthernBalletGatsby

Gatsby has never been a character I especially get on with: I find him weak, dull and obscure. I know F Scott Fitzgerald’s novel is a classic and a favourite book for many, but the great unrequited love and the life spent trying to get closer to a lost woman doesn’t really do much for an unromantic pragmatist like me.

What the book does well though, is paint a teasing picture of the twenties, hinting at silks and pearls and champagne and swimming pools and mansions, leaving me lost in reveries of fabulous parties and all night dancing. I hoped that this Northern Ballet production of Gatsby would help to recreate that feeling and I certainly wasn’t disappointed. The costumes in particular are gorgeous. Gatsby sports an impeccably tailored cream suit that looks closely fitted but allows for an astonishing range of movement, while Daisy graces the stage in a series of fantastic beaded, floaty or feathered drop-waisted dresses. The party scenes are all I could ever dream of: raucous, riotous, crowded, sexy and fun.

Gatsby isn’t the most simple of stories to tell and I was unsurprised to hear a few people around us googling the storyline in the interval. Despite being fairly familiar with the book I struggled a little, and thought it could have done with pruning down a little to keep the key themes cleaner and clearer. Still, the reunion of Gatsby and Daisy is beautifully done and leads to two incredible duets. Tobias Batley as Gatsby is good (although perhaps lacking a little vulnerability), but Martha Leebolt as Daisy is mesmerising. She plays the rebellious socialite perfectly, and the control she has over her body is astonishing to a ballet newbie like myself. I didn’t appreciate it at first, but when I saw her skid across the stage then stop abruptly en pointe, calf muscles taut and body erect, my jaw almost hit the floor. I can’t even imagine the physical condition she has to maintain to pull off moves like that! Other highlights were the burly Kenneth Tindall as jocular Tom, and Benjamin Mitchell as the spurned George Wilson, who pulls off some impressive moves with a car tyre (it’s ballet folks, but not as we know it).

You’ve only got a few more days to go see this, but I’d highly recommend it. Make sure you have at least a passing familiarity with the story before you go, to make sure you enjoy it as much as possible.

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Ondine rehearsals at Northern Ballet

After reading this lovely blog from Anna at angel in the north about her visit to the ‘try before you buy’ sessions at Northern Ballet, I knew I had to get myself booked in. The try before you buy scheme is a brand new initiative by Northern Ballet to let people get a little taster of what they can expect from a ballet. For £5 you got to watch the dancers in their rehearsals for an hour, with the added bonus of a packed lunch at the afternoon sessions or a nice glass of wine/Pimms/beer at the evening sessions. Finally you also got a voucher for £5 off any ticket when the show opens at the West Yorkshire Playhouse. If the crowd when I popped in was anything to go by, it’s a successful initiative; the benches were packed with about 150 people and I was lucky to find a seat. Although all the Ondine sessions are over now, it’s to be hoped that Northern Ballet consider running this scheme again – it’s a genuinely unique experience that was more than worth what I paid.

Proceedings started with a little introduction from Daniel De Andrade, Northern Ballet’s witty and charismatic Ballet Master, detailing the plot and giving us a little information about which scenes we would be watching.

The dream sequence between Brand and Ondine

The difficult thing about the speech was that as interesting as it was, I kept getting distracted by the dancers warming up in the background. They were limbering up, practising their moves and just casually contorting themselves into increasingly graceful but unattainable positions. So although I caught the gist of the story, here it is more coherently from the Northern Ballet website:

“As a child, water sprite Ondine is rescued from the shore and raised as a daughter by the fisherman who saved her. Regardless of her mortal upbringing she maintains the mysterious allure and eternal youthfulness of her species.

Years later when nobleman Brand stumbles upon Ondine he is mesmerised by her, and she by him. Despite his betrothal to the mortal Beatrice his attraction to Ondine is too strong to resist. When forced to choose between them he marries the breathtakingly ethereal nymph and swears his eternal loyalty to her.

Through their union Ondine develops a soul and is transformed from sprite to woman, opening her heart to the joy and pain of human emotion. Nevertheless, in time Brand grows fearful of the alien and otherworldly creature he has married and finds himself again drawn to Beatrice.  However, he knows that should he break the bond between mortal and water sprite, nature decrees that a watery grave will seek him out.”

Daniel told us how Ondine was inspired by the same folk tale that inspired The Little Mermaid. There is a similarity between the two, in the way they deal with the human obsession with and fear of the sea.

We watched three different scenes being rehearsed: a dream sequence with Brand and Ondine, some wedding dances, and the final scene which I won’t spoil for you. They were all really different: as Daniel explained to us beforehand, Ondine boasts a wide variety of both classical and more contemporary dances, so it’s very challenging for the dancers. The difference between the two styles was apparent even to my extremely untrained eye – they’re both executed with immense skill and grace, though. The dancers are just absolutely beautiful people, every single one of them, with incredible chemistry, and the atmosphere once they started moving was electric. I couldn’t help but think forward to how much more intense it would be on a stage with the lighting and costumes and everything. At the same time, though, I loved the way this was treated as a normal rehearsal, so if something wasn’t right, the dancers were stopped and made to do it again. It was fascinating to watch this process and learn more about how everything comes together backstage to make the spectacular shows that the audience sees.

The hour of rehearsal absolutely flew by, and left me wanting more! Luckily I was able to have a quick chat with Daniel before I left, to ask him a couple more questions. We talked about the try before you buy scheme, which he was really pleased with, but what I really wanted to know was, why should new audiences, previously uninterested in ballet, come to see Ondine? “It’s a true British classic”, Daniel says. “The choreography is incredibly rich, it’s musically rich and it has a very strong narrative. The characters really come alive.” He also adds that the story really plays to that mythological relationship between humans and other worlds. I also ask him what stories within popular culture bear a similarity to Ondine. After a brief mention of the Colin Farrell film version of the story,  Daniel describes Ondine as a “more tragic, more sensual” version of The Little Mermaid. This seems about right to me, although the story also brings to mind Romeo and Juliet – except they’ve both survived, the novelty has worn off for Romeo and he starts remembering that Rosaline chick a lot more fondly.

I can’t wait to go see this production for real – the costumes, the set and the lighting are all bound to be fabulous and I can never resist a trip to the West Yorkshire Playhouse at the best of times. Ondine runs from the 8th to the 15th September, and you can get tickets here. Also see Northern Ballet’s gorgeous publicity photos here.

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Crossing Points at Phoenix Dance Theatre

Last year I saw Phoenix Dance Theatre perform a mixed programme, Declarations, at their home venue. It left me absolutely amazed and so when I was offered tickets to the premiere of their new show, Crossing Points, I didn’t hesitate for a second.

The programme features four rather discrete works, two of which are brand new. Things kick off with Catch, a new piece by Ana Lujan Sanchez inspired by the Magritte painting, Son of Man. The six dancers, all in suits, initially move in careful, structured patterns, but as the piece progresses, they shed their restrictive clothing and become more free and more fluid. In Henri Oguike’s Signal, the soundtrack is a relentless beating of Japanese drums, and the lighting a row of three flame filled bowls. The movements are tribal and war like, interspersed with a few moments of peace. Next comes Maybe Yes Maybe, Maybe No Maybe, by Aletta Collins, which is always a crowd pleaser. Based around five dancers and a microphone, it does two remarkable things: it elicits laughs from the audience and somehow gives a microphone a personality. Finally, another new piece: Sound Clash by Kwesi Johnson, which used resourceful lighting by Ed Railton and grungy, asymmetric costumes to create a complex, intricate piece which was visually stunning and definitely a worthy show closer.

The use of props was nothing short of impressive. Ropes, bowler hats, microphones and more were all used to great effect; the microphone and the rope in particular made me think of the famous Pixar lamp as movement and lighting and the dancers combined to give animation to the inanimate.

The highlights for me were a few stolen moments of silence, where the music stopped and all you could hear were gasps of effort, bare feet hitting the floor and heavy breathing. The focus was drawn right to the dancers and to the sheer mechanics of what was happening. Whilst music drowns everything out, the dancers’ movements look effortless and graceful; being able to hear them suddenly made everything more human and physical. The movements felt more brutal and visceral, and suddenly I found myself thinking not about the beautiful shapes and movements but the bodies themselves: brutal, visceral tools that are strong and sinewy and controlled.

There were eight dancers in all, each one of them incredibly talented. I’ve said it before but Azzurra Ardovini has this energy about her that is almost palpable; in any group piece I found my eyes drawn to her. Having said that though, Ryu Suzuki and Chihiro Kawasaki dance incredibly well together, and both are strong, lithe and fluid. I expect huge things from them!

Crossing Points is running until Sat 4th Feb at West Yorkshire Playhouse. Check out Phoenix Dance’s Twitter feed to get ticket offers! I hugely recommend it as a gorgeous night of contemporary dance that’s enjoyable for even dance dunces!

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Coming Soon in Leeds: December Roundup

If the crowds at Millennium Square’s Christkindelmarkt are anything to go by, it’s certainly going strong after ten years here. Although it’s horrendously busy and drastically overpriced, it’s also the only place in Leeds you can buy honey, a metal wine bottle holder and a snow globe at 9pm, so you’ll just have to suck it up! Seriously though, the chalets and fairy lights and busy-ness all combine for a kitsch and cheesy but super Christmassy atmosphere. It’s worth a stroll through in the early evening for a pretzel and a mulled wine in a vile seventies ‘Christmas’ mug.

For a slightly more local experience, don’t forget our very own Kirkgate Market, which will be staying open until 8pm every Thursday in the run up for Christmas.

Of course it’s pantomime season, and this year Denise Nolan is starring as the villain in Beauty and the Beast over at the Carriageworks (Oh no she isn’t, etc etc). It’s on from 2nd December until 7th January and is fun for all the family. Personally, though, I’ll be holding out for Northern Ballet’s version of Beauty and the Beast, on at Leeds Grand Theatre from the 17th to the 31st December. It’s the world premiere, don’tcha know?

Voluntary Action Leeds is a charity that matches volunteers with third sector organisations in Leeds. They also offer training and advice for both organisations and volunteers. You can support them this month by going to the Lord Mayor’s Carol Concert on the 15th December at the Town Hall.

If you’ve had your fill of festive fun, though, then why not take a stroll down to the Henry Moore Institute? From the 1st December right through until March they have United Enemies – an exhibition dedicated to the sculpture of the 1960s and 1970s, described as a defining period in sculpture’s history. It’s there 7 days a week but on Wednesdays they’re open until 9pm. It looks to be the perfect antidote to frenzied Christmas shoppers.

Alternatively, Adam Ant at the O2 Academy with his new act The Good, The Mad & The Lovely Posse on the 10th December should be pretty season neutral. Likewise if you need some laughs, the Courtyard Comedy Club at the West Yorkshire Playhouse on the 18th December is a steal at just £11.

And if all that isn’t enough, perhaps you need a stiff drink inside you. Headingley Ale Festival is running on the 9th, 10th and 11th of December, with your £4.50 ticket (available on the door only) getting you a free pint. There’s a vegan ale among the 45+ on offer, and award winning Yorkshire business I’s Pies will be serving their gourmet handmade pies.

Also – it’s Christmas, so do enjoy that, chaps, if it’s up your street.

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Declarations at Phoenix Dance Theatre

Last night I was lucky enough to see the opening night of Declarations, Phoenix Dance Theatre’s Autumn Tour. I should say here in the interests of transparency that I didn’t pay for my tickets, but got them as a little perk of my day job. However, the tickets for this tour are just £12.50/£10 concessions, and I can say without doubt that I would have been more than happy to pay that for this unpredictable, energetic and moving showcase in a delightfully intimate studio theatre.

The dancers were – to me – outstanding, although I don’t pretend to be any kind of expert. I feel sure that someone trained in dance would spot errors that I would never notice, but if they were there they didn’t affect my enjoyment in the slightest. Two dancers in particular stood out for me. One was the rather enigmatic but extremely lithe Ryu Suzuki and the other was Azzurra Ardovini, whose intense, mischievous energy shone through even in the quieter, more controlled movements.

The four pieces performed each had their own distinct moods and personalities. The opener, Warren Adams’ The Auduacious One, is the showy, energetic number that pushes all the right topical buttons. There’s almost too much to see – as seven dancers whirl about the stage, whoever you watch, you feel as though you’re missing something elsewhere.

The second piece, Locked In Vertical by Isira Makuloluwe, is dark, slick and moody. The musical accompaniment by Francois Caffenne is grungy and incredibly atmospheric. As it pulses, scrapes and rings, the dancers seem to be slaves, moving against their will into ever more coiled and fluid forms.

Haunted Passages by Philip Taylor was devised in 1985, andPhoenix first performed it in 1989. One might expect a piece that’s almost 30 years old to feel dated and irrelevant, but to me it was the most memorable piece. Ardovini stole the show here with her precise, expressive movements. The three dancers creep through a world of shadows and ghosts, suspended between asleep and awake.

The big finish was original, quirky and fun. Aletta Collins’ Maybe Yes Maybe Maybe No Maybe features five dancers and one microphone, using the dancers’ voices to create the electronic soundtrack. Playful and witty, it was a lovely lighthearted way to end the showcase.

Perhaps because Declarations is so accessible price wise, and has such a strong local identity, the audience was very young. Many seemed to be dance students; there was an unusually high incidence of teenage girls with exceptionally good posture and disarmingly voluminous hair. Their reactions seemed generally good, although I didn’t get the feeling that the first piece impressed many.

What I personally loved about the evening wasn’t the politics, or the meaning behind the different pieces. If they were posing important questions or presenting desperate dilemmas, I would honestly have to say that they passed me by. But I loved the fact that seven bodies on a stage held my complete attention for almost two hours, and, more than that, they made me feel something special. There was a mixture of awe, hope and – I’ll admit it – jealousy! It lifted my spirits, and I left feeling introspective and peaceful. And isn’t that a nice way to feel?

Tickets for the Delcarations tour are available here. To keep up to date with Phoenix Dance Theatre’s new and performances, see their website or their Twitter page.

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Coming Soon in Leeds: September Round Up

There are so many events coming up in Leeds over the next couple of months that I thought a bit of a summary would be in order. Hopefully I’ll be attending a lot of these and blogging afterward, so if you don’t want to feel all left out and envious, you need to know the details now. Some need tickets, some don’t, some are free, some aren’t… Scroll down and feast your lovely eyes on all the exciting details…

This week is Chapel Allerton Arts Festival – it started on Monday 29th August and finishes on Sunday 4th September. The main events will be on Saturday and Sunday, where there will be bands and performers on stage, tons of activities for children, and countless stalls from local businesses. You’ll find me on Regent Street, where all the food stalls are, plus the bar and the main stage. If crafts and kids activities are more your thing, you’ll want to be on Well Lane.

I love events like this just purely for the community spirit. It’s such a great opportunity to get out there and see who the people are that you share your neighbourhood with – especially if you’re fairly new to an area, like I am.

For more details about the lineup on stage, the people involved, the activities on offer, direction and so on, there’s an official website here.

That should keep you busy this weekend, but there’s another big event the weekend after. This year, Bradford is hosting the British Science Festival, from the 10th to the 15th September. I know it’s not technically Leeds, but it’s not far off, and there are some incredible events that look like so much fun. Most of the events are free, and a few have a nominal charge of up to £10 – mainly the ones where a famous face is appearing! Highlights will  be Ranulph Fiennes, Professor Robert Winston and Robin Ince. The programme tells you everything you need to know about prices and how to book, and it even has a handy little code system to tell you the age suitability and the level of subject knowledge required to understand and enjoy the discussion. Throughout the week there are some exhibitions that you don’t need to book for, just wander in and take a look round. If that sounds a bit dull to you, listen to their titles: The Science of 3D TV, Hollywood Make-up and Hair,  Artificial Intelligence for Games: The Winning Strategy plus tons of others. Other events include a night at a curry house – for £15, get a curry dinner and talks about the rise of the curry and it’s importance in our society – Hypnosis and the Science of Consciousness, Pond-Dipping at Fairweather Green and so much more. Whether you’re interested in wildlife, robotics, psychology, science-fiction, DNA, sustainable energy, outer space, maths or criminology, there is an event for you. And it’s probably free! I honestly can’t push this one enough. Embrace your inner geek!

On Sunday 18th September, try a little ceilidh dancing at Seven, a cafe and arts space in Chapel Allerton. It’s just £5 on the door and beginners are welcome. Doors open at 8pm.

If you’re a foodie, don’t forget that there are farmer’s markets on the first and third Sunday of this (and every) month. The first Sunday is held in Kirkgate market (behind the bus station) and the third Sunday is on Briggate. Pick up local produce at a great price – that warm, smug feeling you’ll get about saving the planet is an added bonus. On the last Saturday of every month is Kirkstall Deli Market – get curry, cake, tea, cheese, fruit, pizza, pies, pasties and just about anything else you can think of in the beautiful setting of the Kirkstall Abbey ruins.

Leeds is a thriving centre for dance, and if you’re interested in watching dance being performed there’s plenty going on this month. Phoenix Dance Theatre (who are celebrating their 30th anniversary this year) launch their tour ‘Declarations‘ on the 22nd September in their own theatre. There’s a lot of buzz about this and tickets are going fast! They’re in Leeds for three nights only and tickets are extremely reasonable. Book here. Meanwhile, Northern Ballet launch Hamlet at the West Yorkshire Playhouse from the 9th to the 17th September. You can book tickets for that here from £20-£30 per seat. It’s in the Quarry Theatre, which is gorgeously intimate – I don’t think there’s a bad seat in the place. The advertising images from this are absolutely stunning!

Finally, just squeezing in at the end of September is the Ilkey Literature Festival. Astonishingly, it’s been running since 1973, and this year it runs from 30th September to 16th October. There are some huge names this year, including Alan Hollinghurst, Janet Street Porter, Jeremy Paxman and Mark Haddon. You can book tickets now and many of the events are selling out pretty fast – so move quickly!

Whatever you decide to do this month, have a ball! If you know of an event that you think should be included here, or if you attend one of these events and enjoy it, comment below or drop me a line at cultureleeds@gmail.com.

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