Keep Dancing takes to the stage at Milton Keynes Theatre tomorrow and the production promises to deliver an unmissable array of dazzling routines.
Strictly fever is already gripping the nation. The popular BBC reality television programme’s producers drip-fed us with news about the celebrity line-up for Strictly Come Dancing 2016 on social media throughout the summer and Saturday night’s launch show saw each of the contestants get paired with their professional dancer. The couples are now hard at work in rehearsals fine-tuning their debut dances – which means we have a few weeks to wait before the competition begins.
Fortunately, fans in the new city need not wait any longer to enjoy some glitz, glamour and good old fancy footwork as some of our favourite former SCD professionals and celebrities will be showcasing their best moves in Keep Dancing.
Ornate arm gestures, opulent costumes and overwhelming intensity combine in Shanghai Ballet‘s contemporary ballet Echoes of Eternity. Currently engulfing audiences at the London Coliseum in the powerful mysticism of the Orient, this production is part of the venue’s Shanghai Season and was devised thanks to a collaboration between Shanghai Grand Theatre and Shanghai Ballet.
Inspired by an ancient Chinese poem called The Song of Everlasting Regret, Echoes of Eternity is choreographed by Patrick de Bana (whose previous creation for Shanghai Ballet, Jane Eyre, was performed by the Company for their UK debut in 2013). His approach in Echoes of Eternity is predominantly derived from contemporary dance technique, with evocative Eastern embellishment. Indeed, the physical depiction of the work’s dynamic mix of drama and history could not be more removed stylistically from the classical ballets that often grace the Coliseum’s stage. There are no pointe shoes, the dancers’ feet flex, their torsos twist and hunch and many of the shapes and lines they make are distorted and contracted for emotional impact.
Still, despite its decidedly contemporary feel, this romanticised interpretation of a traditional 8th century story ably demonstrates how one of China’s most popular legends has all the narrative components you would find in the most enduring of classical ballets. We see the characters onstage dance with fervour during a long and shadowy journey. Along the way, they encounter eternal love, conflict, community, the supernatural, heartbreak, sacrifice, loss and longing – all those very human emotions and experiences that story-based ballets draw upon.
Northern Ballet is renowned for taking inspiration from literature, classical dance, theatre, opera and popular culture to develop new and original productions. The latest masterwork to be put under observation and reimagined through dance by the Company is the cult classic political philosophy novel 1984. George Orwell’s dystopian drama follows the moves of one Winston Smith. Winston lives in a world of absolute conformity where his every action is scrutinised by Big Brother, a sinister surveillance squad. However, when Winston crosses paths with a woman named Julia he dares to rebel by falling in love…
The significance of the surveillance state in our society demonstrates the enduring relevance of Orwell’s perceptive predictions. We may not have gone as far as branding independent thinking as “thoughtcrime” but the persecution of individualism is something that threatens us all as homogeneity and fear of difference reign.
In 1984, darkness always looms and lives are joyless. However, transfixed by a special small-screen showing of choreographer Jonathan Watkin’s interpretation for Northern Ballet on BBC Four last night, I could find nothing but joy in the power of dance to tell this tale of tyranny.
Once upon a time, Matthew Bourne created a vamped-up adaptation of Sleeping Beauty for his innovative company, New Adventures, devised to wake audiences up to the charms of contemporary dance theatre. Premiered in 2012, Bourne’s Sleeping Beauty proved to be a gothic fairy tale that dance aficionados and newcomers alike could really get their teeth into. This week, having been roused from its slumber for a second nationwide tour, the enthralling interpretation of a much-loved classic is once again casting its spell over visitors to Milton Keynes Theatre.
As a choreographer, Matthew Bourne has always been one who dares to dream. This is, after all, the dazzlingly deviant dance-maker who gave us a deliciously different, Dickensian orphanage-set Nutcracker; not to mention a Swan Lake featuring a menacing male ensemble which initially ruffled a few feathers among ballet purists. It was certainly no mean feat to overhaul these iconic ballets in a totally new movement style!
Bourne’s re-imagining of Sleeping Beauty (which is perhaps the ultimate classical ballet thanks to its glorious score, tutu-clad fairies and abundance of virtuoso dancing) came about as a way of celebrating New Adventures’ 25th birthday. Its inclusion in the company’s repertoire made Bourne’s dream of completing Tchaikovsky’s trilogy of ballet masterworks – in his own inimitable manner – a reality.
Dancer Dominic North is currently touring with New Adventures, performing in Matthew Bourne’s Sleeping Beauty. He found time for a quick chat with Georgina Butler to discuss how things have moved on since the “original” Princess Aurora dozed off…
Dancer Dominic North first appeared with Matthew Bourne’s New Adventures in 2004 as an ensemble swan in Swan Lake. Since making his official début in a principal role as Edward in Edward Sissorhands in 2008 at the Sydney Opera House, he has performed as many of Bourne’s lead characters.
Matthew Bourne is renowned for delving into stories in a bid to reveal characters’ motivations and unearth deeply buried narrative elements. His Sleeping Beauty is devised as a gothic romance full of fairies, supernatural surprises and, of course, true love. Bourne plays around with the time that the story is set so that Princess Aurora is born the year that the classical ballet first premièred and “comes of age” with a 21st birthday during the Edwardian era. This means that she is roused from her slumber in 2012 (which is when Bourne’s Sleeping Beauty was premièred).
He certainly gives the traditional tale enough ingenious twists and turns to keep a contemporary audience intrigued. Just for starters, Aurora falls for the royal gamekeeper; the couple enjoy a sweet romance before the princess visits the land of Nod and a vampiric twist heavily influences who is there to wake her up a century later! Nonetheless, Bourne’s careful attention to detail when coming up with his concept means that he manages to put his own spin on proceedings while simultaneously paying homage to the masterpiece that the classical ballet will forever be.
I am such a balletomane and The Sleeping Beauty may well be my favourite classical ballet (although, admittedly, the top-spot seems to change far too frequently to enable me to have a definitive favourite!). Still, prior to seeing Matthew Bourne’s version, I had never properly considered quite how momentous falling asleep for 100 years would actually be. Maybe it is just because we know the children’s yarn so well but his imaginative approach certainly adds an array of fascinating features that were missing from my bedtime stories!
What better way to learn more about Matthew Bourne’s Sleeping Beauty than by chatting to New Adventures‘ principal dancer Dominic North all about the role that has made him wake up and see this fairy tale differently…