An evening of Music and Dance

One Friday evening in January (19th, to be more specific), a group of LANS students went to see ‘An Evening of Music and Dance‘ with the Birmingham Royal Ballet and Royal Ballet Sinfonia. This one-off concert consisted of an alternating mixture of classical music and dance excerts performed in the beautiful symphony hall, with introductions by the director of the Birmingham Royal Ballet, David Bintley. The pieces were generally light-hearted and joyful, and we all left with smiles on our faces.

Evening dance 2The six dances showcased an impressive range of style and skill from the performers. The show opened with the Act III pas-de-deux from The Sleeping Beauty, a classical piece requiring a perfectly executed balance of strength and grace. This was contrasted with others, such as the far more contemporary After the Rain: pas-de-deux and the comedic La Fille mal Gardée clog dance, an entertaining fusion of ballet and tap performed in (you guessed it) clogs. My personal favourite was the finale: pas-de-deux and solos from Don Quixote. It was a fiery and exciting dance with many leaps and jumps culminating in a series of seemingly never-ending spins from the ballerina.

The music performed came from a variety of sources, including dance (The Miller’s Dance and Final Dance from The Three Cornered Hat), opera (prelude to Hansel and Gretal) and film (The Adventures of Robin Hood: suite). Beyond being able to say the pieces were performed very well, I do not know enough about music to be able to comment on them, so I turned to my more musically talented friends for advice (shout out to Alice Sharp and Joanna Stell)! They commented on the excellent Cor Anglais solo, as well as on the overall high-quality performance and well-chosen, entertaining pieces. They also liked how the music of Spartacus had repeated themes that changed subtly to reflect the emotions of the characters in the dance, with a more innocent variation for Spartacus’ wife that switched to a note of apprehension when he considered the war.

Evening dance 3, Giselle-Iain-Mackay-as-Albrecht-photo-Bill-Cooper-681x1024This concert was also of significance as it was the second to last performance of principal dancer Iain Mackay, who has been with the Birmingham Royal Ballet for 19 years. He and his partner, Jenna Roberts, danced After the Rain and Spartacus: adagio of Spartacus and Phrygia. According to the Birmingham Royal Ballet’s website “Iain created the role of the Prince in David Bintley’s Cinderella which premiered in 2010 and was broadcast on BBC Two to millions of viewers on Christmas Day that same year. He is also known for his outstanding performances as Romeo in Romeo and Juliet, the Third Seminarian in Carmina Burana and most recently for creating Prospero in David Bintley’s 2016 production of The Tempest.”1 He took his bow here to a standing ovation and huge round of applause.

1 https://www.brb.org.uk/press/birmingham-royal-ballet-principal-dancer-iain-mackay-to-leave-the-company-after-18-years

Contributed by Eleanor Teather, LANS year 1

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Macbeth, Mark Bruce Company, at DanceXchange

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The Witches in Mark Bruce’s new Macbeth (Photo Nicole Guarino)

On the evening of February 8th 2018, a group of Liberal Arts and Natural Science (LANS) students attended a performance of Macbeth at the BirminghamHippodrome. The show was part of the program curated by DanceXchange company and produced by Mark Bruce company. The show portrayed the classical Shakesperian story through a variety of cleverly perfected dance choreography . Having no prior knowledge of either the story or the style of dance, I had no idea what to expect.

In actuality, I was glad I had no preconceptions, for I was able to truly appreciate just how impactful this piece was without the influence of context. It was surprisingly easy to just sit back and watch the dance unfold, without the scramble to find lost threads of plot I’m a little ashamed to admit I experienced at the ballet. The interpretive nature of this dance meant that, where a particular intricacy of the story was hard to convey, the emotions that motivated the action could be portrayed in a way that told it more effectively.

Indeed, even if I hadn’t been able to follow the action, the movements of the dancers were exquisite. Macbeth being such a dark and tortured piece, there were moments it seemed that the performers were throwing themselves entirely at the mercy of the emotions they had to bring to life, wildly tossing and turning in the air yet somehow never once missing the mark. It was feral and graceful at the same time, and throughout I had to keep reminding myself of the intense training necessary just to create that illusion of effortlessness. In fact, within every scene the style of dance and choreography perfectly conveyed the emotions of the characters. For instance, the Macbeths fluidly dance around each other as Lady Macbeth attempts to convince Macbeth to murder the King. This section was built on anticipation with choreography centering on push and pull as Macbeth is coerced closer to sin.

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Jonathan Goddard is Macbeth and Eleanor Duval Lady Macbeth in Mark Bruce’s new Macbeth (Photo Nicole Guarino)

Another distinctive scene with a clever use of dance and theatrics was the depiction of Macbeth seeing ghosts. In this scene, Macbeth is staring at a character on stage. This character was just murdered by Macbeth, with the audience as witness. It is then made obvious that said character is now a ghost through the clever theatrical positioning of Lady Macbeth. She moves to stand in front of the murdered character and slowly raises her arms in question. At this point it becomes clear that only the audience and Macbeth are visualising the murdered character, with the rest of the cast unable to see anything. I thought this was especially clever, not only in showing that the character is not truly there, but also in encouraging the audience to feel his distraught confusion in a more powerful way. This is because the audience has witnessed the murder of the character and then sees thecharacter come back to the stage; thus, they are also confused as to why they are seeing this character again along with Macbeth. Indeed, this type of emotional portrayal was integrated throughout the performance.

After the show we had an opportunity to partake in a Q&A session, in which the choreographer, Mark Bruce presented various perspectives on the production.

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Post-show Q&A session with choreographer Mark Bruce and members of the cast        (Photo E.C. Toescu)

For example,  he revealed that he found inspiration for his stylistic choices in various films and it was evident that he aspired for a performance as compelling and complex as a film, at least interms of special effects. He achieved this through his fantastically innovative use of props and body paint. Though most of the fights were conducted gracefully, through dance, there were scenes in which the sheer brutality of war had to hit home. One way to be suggestive was the use of body paint; applied so seamlessly that it appeared part of the dance, with the use of colours complementing the plotline perfectly. It didn’t need to be explained to the audience that two black lines down the cheeks meant death and finality. We knew! The set was not a traditional, static one, fading into the background as it would in most plays anddances, but become active and involved in the action at various times. This made for a fascinating watch. Ambiguous wooden poles that added to the threatening atmosphere for most of the first act became a stake for a severed head, bars behind which the dead were trapped,weapons for warriors of the revolution. Their journey followed that of the characters and added to the sense of instability, political and personal. I can’t pretend to know thespecific ins and outs of the plot even now, but the fear that something unstoppable had been started was felt perhaps more deeply by the audience than it would have been had it been vocalised.

The presentation of Macbeth through the dancers and their director was truly captivating. The visual mediums of the performance were complemented by the music score – a perfect mixture of haunting instrumentals and jarring, threatening sound effects – to create a truly nightmarish ambiance. Despite knowing nothing of the plot or medium prior to the evening, I came away deeply surprised and with a significant understanding of the emotions and story underpinning Macbeth, at least in the interpretation offered by Mark Bruce’s company.

Contributed by Claire Fletcher and Charlotte Joiner

 

Arsehammers – a monologue by Claire Dowie

An early January event – going to Crescent Theatre, that company of amateur theatre, run by volunteers but feeling quite professional, to see a production of two of Claire Dowie’s famouos monologues, staged by an incredible youth theatre company, Stage 2, founded in 1988 by Liz Light.

Clare Dowie Arsehammers

You walk in … and are overwhelmed by a sense of nostalgia; you see a group of kids playing a distoreted version of snakes and ladders with a die half their size and a splatter of childish glee across their faces. The audience is seated all around the room, as if encasing the children, centre-stage. The lights are bright and colorful, cheerful, much like the kids’ demeanour. They’re all dressed in overly bright shades of red, blue, and yellow; radiant and whimsical.

Stage 2, pic2The repetitive counting as they move their allotted steps adds a sort of ominous feel to the setting, as if this childish whimsy won’t last. The lights eventually dim, and there’s silence; darkness.

The kids appear centre-stage, spot-lit, each with a toy-like prop and an exaggerated excited grin; they’re all engaged in play, happily oblivious, until they start speaking. They talk of a grandma gone to live with the angels, of a granddad who’s alone and might come to live with them. There’s excitement and wonder about them, but also sadness; as each kid speaks a bit of the narrative, they sit down, as if resigned, and continue to play with their props in a more subdued manner.

The lights dim once more and explode into sudden brightness, mayhem, and laughter. There’s sudden, projectile noise: protests to being fed false stories about angels and death. The monologue evolves into vivid dark imagery and angry tones, talking of death and claiming to be more mature. The music and the lights seem to follow the tune of the monologue, rising in pitch and brightness, until it reaches a crescendo and then falls, the lights slowly dimming and the excitement dwindling, as if the children were crashing after a sugar high.

Silence and darkness descend once more, and then they’re spot-lit; four of them are centre-stage with the rest lined at the back, each holding fast onto their toys. It’s a slow progression from then, they all slowly move to the centre, forming a V-shaped gathering; they talk in slow, eerily synchronized tones, of how granddad had gone out and not come back, of how the parents had been worried and out searching, leaving the kids at home, upset, confused, and angry. The dialogue is simple, but packed with emotional reverence, it leaves you feeling sympathetic, and oddly apologetic, longing to reach out and hug the hurting children.

Stage 2, pic1The tone shifts once more, the performers easily breaking into five groups, all engaged in excited play. It’s reminiscent of the fickle nature of childish thought and fixation, how easily they can go from angry and reserved to excited and animated.

The music, having picked up once more as the kids began to play, eventually fades, and they’re all still, as if in a game of dancing freeze, but they break away slowly, exaggeratedly, moving around the room with grand gestures and overly enunciated talk of the war. In a brilliant display of production, the childish speculation and mayhem about granddad’s exciting adventures to weird and wonderful lands is juxtaposed by loud short bursts of music, as if telling of war times, but subtly; hinting at the real reason for granddad’s spontaneous disappearances, as opposed to the gleeful speculation of super powers.

They envisioned a dance they imagined he would always do before venturing out on one of his adventures, a silly little thing with an equally silly chant, but one they tried to copy one too many times, only to burst into giggles or disappointed sighs, wishing and hoping they would once more go back to playing hide and seek with granddad, instead of him always hiding away, leaving them alone, with a little sister too immature to entertain and a mother too frustrated to fully connect with.

The atmosphere slowly shifts again, its more solemn, more tense; granddad’s not with them, or so the parents say, but he seems perfectly alright, seated on his armchair with his binoculars slung around his neck, only he doesn’t talk or play, just stares ahead into a void, scaring and worrying the kids. They all pile into a car shortly after, being told by mum and dad they’re visiting granddad’s new home. It’s not quite clear why he couldn’t just stay with them, but they weren’t sure they wanted him around either, not if he wouldn’t play with them, so the journey was spent in confused sulking.

Stage 2, pic3

The desolate mood dissipated once they arrived at granddad’s new home; it had nurses and doctors in fancy clothes, and many other grandmas and granddads. They asked a reception lady that smelled a tad funny about this new place they’d be running up and down and all around in, and she told them granddad would be working with experts, lighting a new fire in their little tummies. He would be working with experts, with cool gadgets and machines, and saving the world all the other grandparents. The kids were beyond happy, even proud.

Only, mum was crying in the car on the way back, and they had to pretend not to notice because dad was driving on as if he didn’t notice, but it became harder and harder to ignore her tears and her sniffles the louder they got and the longer they continued. You could never contain curiosity for long, and so they asked, and mum told them granddad would not be coming back, that he was very sick, and they had to leave him there.

Alzheimer’s! The word resonated with the kids, because they’d been chanting ‘Arsehammers’ to themselves for a while, believing it to be granddad’s secret trick for traveling, but no, he was only sick. The mood dims and dulls further, as does the light, to show the dawning night. It was hard to fall asleep that night because it was hard to not think of granddad and all they’d believed so far, but eventually sleep came.

So did granddad, jolting them awake with a loud bang and a crash, as he performed the silly dance, loudly exclaimed ‘arsehammers’ and vanished. The next morning was frightful and full of tears as mum told the kids granddad was dead, but their little hearts held onto the fantasy – he was only at home with grandma and the angels – as they silently played with their toys; a sharp contrast to the cheery attitude at the start.

Contributed by Arooba Shami, Year 1 LANS

pictures by E.C. Toescu

 

Mussorgsky’s Pictures at an Exhibition

birmingham-symphony-hall stageOn Wed 7th Feb 2018, the Symphony Hall housed another classical music evening, a concert that combined well-loved classical repertoire, as well as unusual yet enchanting compositions is sure to be a hit with classical music lovers of all ages- and this performance of Mussorgsky’s Pictures at an Exhibition was no exception.

Performed by the fantastic City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra (CBSO), the first half of the concert was a wonderful mix of calm, soothing melodic lines that filled the entirety of Symphony Hall, and sharp, energetic rhythms that could catch anybody’s attention. Listeners were treated to the upbeat and whimsical ‘May Night: Overture’ by Russian composer Rimsky-Korsakov (1844-1908), and then whisked off to Spain during Falla’s (1876-1946) ‘Nights in the Gardens of Spain (1915), featuring talented pianist Javier Perianes.

After the interval, Modest Mussorgsky’s (1839-1881) music took central stage. The famous ‘A Night on a Bare Mountain’ opened the second half, using the orchestration of his friend and admirer Rimsky-Korsakov; a piece as delightfully eerie as expected, that also served as a nice introduction to the main feature of the concert- ‘Pictures at an Exhibition’.

ELP, Pictures, Album cover

One of the many ‘takes’ on the “Pictures at an Exhibition” – the cover of the Emerson, Lake and Palmer album presenting their interpretation.

This piece, originally created as a piano work, was presented in the more famous format, orchestrated by the renowned French composer Maurice Ravel (1875-1937). The piece depicts various pictures seen at an art gallery, from gnomes to hens, the music perfectly captures the weird and wonderful artistry seen in such galleries. Featuring memorable musical motifs depicting beauty as well as comedy, the overall experience was thoroughly enjoyable and uplifting.

Hearing classical music being played live is always an amazing experience for anyone – a fellow classmate commented on the fact that being able to see all the instruments working together to produce such a sound gave her an appreciation of classical music and orchestration in general.

In conclusion, the concert was a great night out for all who attended- a memorable event for sure!

Contributed by Alice Sharp, Y1 LANS (Music)