BalletBoyz hit the States: A Chance to Dance

A couple of weeks ago I got sent an exciting email, and later a Fed-Ex package with a preview DVD, regarding a new TV show in America. The BalletBoyz, Michael Nunn and Billy Trevitt, recently headed to the US to create a company in 28 days to perform at a New York Gala hosted by Nigel Lythgoe, all whilst being filmed for a new series: A Chance To Dance.

As with all the work the BalletBoyz do, both on stage and behind the camera, their main aim is to make dance open to a wider audience. As ex-dancers with the Royal Ballet they are well aware of the ‘stereotypical’ audience (as Nunn, himself, puts it “it’s just a sea of grey heads”) and so aren’t afraid to mix dance styles to help make their work current. Unlike their all-male UK-based company, The Talent, (which I was lucky enough to see here in Bath and take a workshop with their ballet master at Sadler’s Wells) this would be a mixed-company and they would perform a brand new work created especially for them by Nunn and Trevitt.

Having seen the preview DVD (and I’m not allowed to give away any spoilers!) I think this looks a fantastic show that will hopefully boost the image of dance and make the BalletBoyz a household name in America. Unlike other competitive dance shows out there this isn’t about earning public votes, this is about creating a company that will not only perform at the gala but then be the opening act for the So You Think You Can Dance tour and hopefully continue to perform afterwards. It’ll involve dancers of different styles, show the creative process of Nunn and Trevitt, and give a hint at what it’s like to work in a dance company in the 21st century. All in all, I think it looks great, and just hope it makes it way across here to the UK! The season premiere is on August 17th 10pm ET/7pm PT on Ovation – check it out!

Here’s a couple of promo videos from the show – the first is an introduction to the BalletBoyz and a bit about the show, and the second is Billy Trevitt with some tips about being a dancer. Enjoy!

Let me know if you catch the season premiere of A Chance to Dance – I’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments below!

Until next time, keep on dancing!

Gala Countdown…

After a week away from all things ballet (my brother got married and so I gained a beautiful sister!) I’m really looking forward to getting back stuck in with rehearsals, classes and retain the momentum gained from my week at Ballet Cymru.

Gala Time!

So what is my next big aim? Well on the 9th December I will be performing in the Ballet Bristol gala. This is the adult group I perform with here in the UK and, whilst none of us are professional dancers, we are aiming to put on a 3 Act gala. When I joined last year they were in the process of preparing for their gala and it was such a success I couldn’t even get a ticket to go watch them – so hopefully it will be a sell-out this year as well.

At the moment the countdown above reads 116 days until the Gala. That sounds like a long time but it is a bit scary to be honest – there’s so much to do before then! First off, I need to learn all the pieces I will be performing (and one hasn’t even been created yet!) and then polish them to performance standard. I also need to build up my fitness and stamina to be able to perform all of them in a row.

Originally I was hoping to just be performing in one piece – I am relatively new to the group so didn’t expect to be cast in many pieces. Imagine my surprise when I found out I would be in four pieces! Here they are:

  • Act I: New Pas de Deux - this is a brand new Pas de Deux choreographed by another member of the group (who I’ll be dancing it with). I don’t know much about it, other than that it will be around 4 or 5 minutes and be exclusively partner work (no variations).
  • Act II: Sleeping Beauty Jewel’s Pas de Cinq - Whilst not in all productions of Sleeping Beauty, there is a Pas de Cinq between four ballerinas (representing Diamond, Emerald, Ruby and Sapphire) and one danseur (representing Gold). There is an opening segment with Gold and Diamond dancing together and the three others, then there are variations for Gold, Diamond and a Pas de Trois for the other ballerinas, followed by a coda with everyone. Much like Pas de Déesses it’s rather fun to be surrounded my lots of gorgeous ladies, and the piece finishes with me partnering all four in quick succession. The variation is a tricky one though, and a few different variants exist. I’ll be basing it off these two versions (the first by Jean-Guillaume Bart of POB and the second by Duncan Lyle of ABT):

  • Act III: Coppélia Wedding Pas de Deux and Wheat Pas de Deux – Now Act III is going to be the killer. After already doing two pieces I’ve got to do a complete classical Pas de Deux followed almost immediately (3 pieces separating them) by a character-style Pas de Deux! Although out of sync with the story line, the Wedding Pas de Deux will come first, with a few tricky lifts in the opening sections, a killer of a variation (which I learned at the Ballet Cymru summer program) followed by a hopefully explosive coda (maybe with a few grand pirouettes in there?). The Wheat Pas de Deux has a long opening section of partner work when Swanhilda is trying to determine if Franz is her true love. Following this she dances with her friends (although I return for a quick 32-count solo in the middle) to some of the most awesome music in Coppélia (including a bit which always reminds me of the Dambusters!). Again, the pieces are based of a few different variants but here are the Royal Ballet versions starring Carlos Acosta and Leanne Benjamin:

So that’s my gala plans – do you see now why I’m a bit nervous?! I’m really looking forward to the challenge though, and have recently added in a decent amount of cardio into my week to try and build up my fitness and stamina. I’m doing this through lots of swimming, running and biking – rather convenient as I might be doing another triathlon (and possibly a half-marathon too) in July with a friend!

Have you got any performances coming up? Let me know in the comments!

Until next time, keep dancing!

What a Week!

I’ve spent the last week doing what I absolutely love: ballet. Last Sunday I headed to Newport (in Wales) to take part in the Ballet Cymru Summer Program. This would consist of a week of intensive ballet training culminating in a performance on the Saturday.

Some of my supplies to keep me fuelled during the week - these didn't last too long!

When I first heard about this summer intensive, and the fact that it was open to adults as well as children, I was a bit apprehensive. It would mainly be kids, what if I was the only adult? (There was another adult there in the same level as me) What if it was too much for me? (It stretched me but I managed to cope and push myself) What if I made a fool of myself? (I probably did this, but who cares?!) Unsurprisingly these fears would turn out to be completely unfounded.

So, how was it? Amazing!

There was three levels for the course: Level 3, Level 4 and Advanced/Pro. I would be in Level 4 along with 22 girls (mainly aged 14-18) and 2 other boys (aged 15). Monday through Friday had a nearly identical schedule which went something like this:

  • 7:00 Wake up! Shower, have a bowl of porridge (breakfast of champions!), pack a bag for the day with spare t-shirts, tights, dance belts etc as well as therabands, foam roller and other instruments of torture.
  • 9:00-9:30 Pre-class Stretch Mainly working out the kinks in my mid-back with the foam roller (physio’s orders) and trying to get my body moving.
  • 9:30-11:00 Morning Ballet Class This was taken by a different company member every day. With a variety of teaching styles it was really interesting to concentrate on different aspects of ballet each day, and even more interesting to see how that manifested itself in rehearsals later in the day. Highlights included working on Grand Pirouettes, a brain teaser exercise (whilst doing 16 changements the right arm moves from bras bas -> 1st -> 2nd every 3 counts and the left arm moves from bras bas -> 1st -> 5th -> 2nd every 4 counts) and some awesome music one of the company members had recorded himself playing (The Muppets for Glissés and Harry Potter for Adage!).
  • 11:15-11:45 Male Solos (Franz Act III, Coppelia) My absolute highlight of every day – and the most knackering half an hour ever! Held on stage and taken with the advanced/pro guys it was the most inspiring part of the day. Building up the variation from Monday through Wednesday, Thursday and Friday then consisted of just running through it lots – ending up very out of breath! The variation contained sauté echappé battu, grand jetés en tournant, cabrioles devant, brisé volés, grand pas de basques, tours en l’air, Italian pas de chats, pirouettes into fouetté pirouette with a hop… and more! It definitely pushed me (especially as I hadn’t done some of the moves, like brisé volé before) but I loved every second.
  • 12:00-12:45 Pas De Deux Class (Work Hours PdD) Next up was partnering, alternating between the girls in levels 3 and 4. Starting off with simple trust exercises to find the girls’ balance (leaning to the sides etc) it built up to learning a mini pas de deux from Coppélia (called Work Hours) which included promenades, grand fouetté catches into fish dives and more. Whilst everyone seemed a bit nervous to start as the week progressed we got more confident which helped us guys cope with some of the trickier stuff. And the male solo part of the PdD even included those dreaded Brisé Volés!
  • 12:45-1:30 Lunch An all important lunch break! I think my entire week was fuelled by a combination of fresh lemonade and ham sandwiches from M&S!
  • 1:30-2:30 Repertoire (Mazurkas) Next up was the big group piece, the Mazurkas from Coppélia (can you spot the theme yet?!). The first half of each day’s rehearsal was with just Level 4 in one of the studios. A rather complex (and reasonably long) piece there was plenty to do. With dancing in threes, pairs, individually, as a whole group and back in pairs there was plenty to learn! The guys part included lots of mazurka-ing, lots of cabrioles, lots of holubetz’s and even a few tours en l’air! Due to there being a 1:7 ratio of guys to girls we had a few of the girls pretending to be boys. Whilst it was particularly demoralising when we kept being told the girls were better at being boys than we were (there was no need to keep rubbing it in!) we all worked together to get the steps down and it ended up a really fun piece to dance (and hard work to boot).
  • 2:45-3:30 Repertoire on Stage (Mazurkas) Following our group rehearsal each day we joined Level 3 on stage to space out the mazurka. Whilst slow-going at times it was fascinating to see how we had to adapt the choreography to fit the stage: reining in some steps that travelled to much and really going for others that didn’t cross enough space.
  • 3:45-5:00 Creative/Contemporary (Watching the White Wheat) We worked to a piece of Welsh folk music telling the story of a young man who falls in love with a girl, her parents force her to marry someone else so he runs off, he dreams that her husband dies so he returns to marry his true love, but it was she who was dying and he never falls in love again. Happy stuff, eh? Creating an entirely new piece from scratch we started by working on a short motif based on numbering the corners 1 through 4, ceiling 5 and floor 6. Given the prompts “R hand 1, R elbow 3, L hand 5, chest 6, L wrist 4, R side 2″ we created individual motifs that we later expanded on. Later we added in duets where one partner (including me) had their eyes closed and responded to tactile prompts from their partners. Finally we added in some lifts (with me doing some of the lifting!) and eventually created a nice, coherent and meaningful piece. Whilst I thought I wouldn’t particularly enjoy these sessions they ended up being amongst my highlights of each day.
  • 5:00-5:30 Pilates/Stretch The final session each day was a combination of stretching and pilates: i.e. a half hour of pain! Whilst initially frustrating to see most of the girls in splits and able to shoulder their legs to their ears I started to reassess my goals and aimed to work to the limits of my own ability. Whilst not the most flexible person there I could still work on increasing my flexibility and building on my core strength. It was amazing to see my core get more stable and stronger even just with a week of work. I will definitely be trying to regularly work on some of the exercises to hopefully see more improvements.
  • Evenings The learning didn’t just stop at 5:30 each day! I was sharing a flat with a few of the Advanced/Pro dancers and after cooking dinner each night we’d chill out, watch the Olympics (Go Team GB!) and stretch. I learnt how to use a theraband properly, how to ‘dome’ my foot to work my arches, to write the alphabet with my foot to work my ankles, and how to use a foam roller to cause all kinds of pain! (If you’ve ever rolled out your IT band then you’ll know what I mean – ouch!). It was also just hugely inspiring to talk to them about their daily schedules, what training they got, what their hopes were for the future and so on. We also geeked out a bit: watching a fair few ballet videos. Highlights for us were all the youtube clips of Lauren Cuthbertson and Federico Bonelli in Romeo & Juliet, Tetsuya Kumakawa in pretty much anything (how had I never heard of him before?!), Ivan Vasiliev’s slow-mo triple cabriole and Daniil Simkin’s opening posé arabesque in his Corsaire video and his Les Bourgeois.

Some of the non-edible supplies that helped me through the week...

So that was how the week progressed. It was great to really get stuck in the pieces we were learning and feel my technique improving – even if my muscles got sorer and sorer! Saturday was the culmination of the week: a chance to perform on the Riverfront Theatre stage in front of an audience of friends and family. I would be in 5 pieces: the Work Hours PdD, the Mazurkas, Franz’s male variation, the Work Hours PdD again (with a different set of girls), and the creative Watching the White Wheat piece.

All in all I think the performance went awesomely for me! For the Work Hours PdD I managed to (hopefully) make the girls look their best and even safely negotiated the brisé volé section the guys had. Mazurkas went well, hopefully I used enough ‘shoulder’ and attitude for the music! Franz’s solo was split into three sections – the advanced/pro guys halving to cover the first two (and hardest) sections. Then me, and the other two Level 4 lads, finished the variation off: chugs in arabesque, then assemblé to Italian pas de chat. This is repeated thrice followed by a tendu to fourth then double en dehors pirouette to the right to finish. Being a leftie when it comes to turning the pirouette terrified me, especially as they had been dodgy during rehearsals. However the stage lights seemed to actually help, I used the projector at the back of the theatre to spot and managed a nice clean double to a lunge in fourth – wooo! I then managed to survive the dreaded brisé volés in the Work Hours PdD Round 2 before finishing with the creative piece where the underarm lift worked perfectly. All in all, pretty damn awesome!

Proof that ballet is hard work! This was post-lunch following a particularly hard Male Solo's and Pas de Deux class...

And then it was over. After heading back to the flat and packing it was time for goodbyes. I was surprised how sad I was that the week was over – and how sad I was to not be living with my flatmates anymore. It had been a real laugh sharing with Taylor, Josh, Jack, Ash and Sabrina and inspiring to boot. I’m sure it won’t be the last I see of them though: I’ll be keeping in touch with the Central lot whenever I take class there and hopefully I might get to see Taylor (who trains at Elmhurst) when I go to Birmingham to watch BRB.

I just want to finish by saying a huge thank you to all at Ballet Cymru for all their help. First off Amy for letting me take part in the first place and then to every single dancer who helped me during the week. I feel like I have moved on so much in such a short space of time.

And proof that ballet is brutal! Bruises from stray pointe shoes in Pas de Deux class...

I’m not going to lie though – the week had a bittersweet note. When it was over all I could think about was how much I wished this was my day-to-day life. How I wish I had started ballet earlier than 23 and maybe have pursued a career in a related area.

But I can’t live in the past so instead I’m using this as the first step towards December’s Gala with Ballet Bristol. I’ll be performing 4 pieces in the evening: the Wheat Pas de Deux from Coppélia, the Wedding Pas de Deux from Coppélia, a brand new Pas de Deux, and the Jewels/Gold Pas de Cinq from Sleeping Beauty. This is going to be the hardest thing I’ve done in ballet so far and will need a lot of practice, strength and stamina. After the disappointment of being asked to take a 6 month break from my RAD class this week has reminded me exactly why I love ballet and why I’m going to fight my hardest to keep dancing as much as I can.

Until next time, keep on dancing!

P.S. Because I can’t resist sharing it after watching it (multiple times!) this week, here are Lauren Cuthbertson and Federico Bonelli dancing the Balcony Pas de Deux from McMillan’s Romeo & Juliet. I honestly don’t think it could be any more perfect… Enjoy!