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

Advertisements

Macbeth, Mark Bruce Company, at DanceXchange

MBC-Macbeth-landscape, Pic1

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.

MBC-Macbeth, Pic2

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.

Macbeth_s, ECT (IMG_20180208_220237080)

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)

WBBL & BBL Cup Final 2018: Nottingham and Cheshire Takes Trophies Home

[Learning is something that happens in unconventional places — the emotions, team challenges, and spectator dynamics on display at major sporting events come to life in the LANS first year team-building visit to the Raymond Priestly Centre (Lake Coniston)]

One student’s response to a LANS Cultural Programme event, by Kia Vue, Liberal Arts and Natural Sciences (first year student)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Nottingham Wildcats just won the WBBL Cup Final and the BBL is setting up

Over 10,000 people came to see history being made at the Arena Birmingham on January 28th as Ashley Harris of Nottingham Wildcats and Tricia Oakes of Caledonia Pride starts the Women’s British Basketball League (WBBL) by tipping the ball.

The crowd sits on their edge of the seats as the game continues to be neck to neck throughout the first three quarters. Nottingham has been to five WBBL finals in the last three seasons; however, has not won one. And the Scottish team, Caledonia have only been playing their second season in the WBBL, which makes it hard for everyone to truly pick a side.

As the fourth quarter drew close, the Nottingham Wildcats were able to secure the title and scored 70-66 over Caledonia Pride and Ashley Harris named MVP.

In between the WBBL and BBL, the famous Pro:Direct Slam Dunk Contest was incredible. The highlight of this was perhaps Manchester Giants’ Austin Rettig who lined up four mop boys and slam dunked on them. Rettig scored an overall 58/60 which ultimately made him the 2018 Pro:Direct Slam Dunk winner.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Cheshire Phoenix accepting the BBL Cup Final’s trophy

Worcester Wolves’ Dallin Pachynski secures the first quarter by scoring most of the points with 25-21 over Cheshire Phoenix; however, the Wolves seemed to fall behind after that for the rest of the game.

Ending the first half with a foul from Phoenix, the score was 41-40 with Wolves falling short on one point and the fans continue to cheer for their team as the third quarter starts and the game became either team’s territory.

However, as the fourth quarter draws to an end, the Wolves was beaten by the Phoenix with the score of 99-88 and Malcolm Riley named MVP. The Wolves played a mean game and there was fair competition throughout.

Overall Malcolm Riley scored 26 points for the Phoenix and Michael Ojo scored 18 points for the Wolves. Both teams did incredibly well, and truly had the crowd roaring and supporting them all the way.

Lake Coniston Photo Diary

Below is a photo diary of the June 2017 Coniston trip by Simon Scott:

Day 1

At 8am, we set off by coach from the North Gate for the Lake District.  After a pretty good journey, we were welcomed by the team at the Raymond Priestley Centre and had lunch. I think it’s fair to say that most people, if not everyone, was a bit apprehensive about what to expect, but any concerns dissipated pretty quickly when we got straight into the activities:
con1

con2

con 3

con4

The groups were pushed in their tasks and had to coordinate and communicate well.  It’s worth noting that the team at the Raymond Priestley Centre have a full range of activities to choose from, and every year they select the more advanced ones for LANS students, who have a good reputation for working well together.

After the activities, dinner was ready.  I cannot emphasise this enough: I was told that there would be plenty of food and was sceptical about this, but there was way too much and we were never without food for snacks.  Everyone was tired after the travelling and activities, so opted for puzzles, Love Island, pool or table tennis, while others read.

Day 2

Everyone was up on time for breakfast, and then met in the meeting room before starting activities.  Two groups went on the water:

con5

con6

con7

con8

con9

Another group went out onto the ropes:

con10

con11

Then the groups switched over after lunch:

con12

After the day’s activities, John addressed everyone in the meeting room to tell us a few things about the following day’s activities.

con13

In the evening, we made packed lunches for the next day and then most people went to the pub after dinner.

Day 3

After breakfast, we convened in the meeting room before getting stuck into another full day of activities:

con14

Unfortunately, I was confined to the Centre with a foot injury so couldn’t join the groups on their activities.  These photos are from later in the day as they worked as one group:

con15

I should mention that the views, not surprisingly, are spectacular (although the photos don’t do it justice):

con16

con17

Day 4

In the morning, we met up in the meeting room after breakfast.  Yesterday saw the end of the main activities: today we had three to choose from, including mountain biking.  After lunch, we had time for a group photo before catching the coach back to Birmingham:

con18

It was an amazing trip and the team at the Raymond Priestley Centre made us feel very welcome.  People were asking me if they could come again next year.  I cannot recommend it highly enough!

Amédée – Madness at the REP!

contributed by Harriett Stothard, LANS Year 2 student

I went in to this play completely blind (and slightly late – oops!), aside from this very short description I skim-read:

‘Frustrated playwright Amédée (played by Trevor Fox) is still trying to finish the play he started writing  . . . 15 years ago! Meanwhile, his wife Madeleine (Josie Lawrence), works hard in telecommunications to keep them in their dilapidated London apartment. But the couple are keeping a secret. A big secret that seems to be getting bigger by the day. A terrifying secret that is now threatening to take over their lives. A secret that has grown into an unwelcome entity they can no longer hide. Now they urgently need a plan of how to get rid of it!’

Amedee_2

The wordy trailer….

I assumed that it would be a kitchen-sink comedy drama type thing, which I thought would be interesting if a little dry, but I was so wrong! Turns out, Amédée is a little known Theatre of the Absurd play from 1954, from one of the first voices in Absurdist theatre, Eugène Ionesco, who was in the forefront of this movement along with Samuel Beckett. It has been adapted by Sean Foley and produced by Roxanna Silbert, the Artistic Director of the REP (with this trailer).

It did have elements of the domestic/kitchen sink/sitcom drama style with a bickering couple, except with a mysterious growing… thing in the next room and mushrooms sprouting through the walls! One would be mistaken (as I was) for thinking at the beginning that the growing thing could be their child and that the play was reflecting the common parental anxiety of children growing up and flying the nest, as Madeleine had a sense of the maternal about her, but it ended up being a growing dead body that she accuses Amédée of killing because it was her young lover. This is never really agreed upon amongst all the weirdness in the play, for example Madeleine’s job as a switchboard operator in their apartment, fielding calls for and from various heads of state and often answering nonsensically, Amédée’s vision of himself and Madeleine when they were younger, and the absolutely mad ending, which I won’t spoil in case anyone who hasn’t seen it wants to!

It is very confusing to pick up on different themes from this play as I am no expert in the Theatre of the Absurd, but I found it interesting to witness the (non-physical) transformation of the body in the other room from unwelcome, mysterious house guest, to child, to feared, semi ridiculous growing body, to ex-lover, to Jesus/God (from the layout of his body on stage) to finally, and most bizarrely, a sail!

I mustn’t forget to mention the kind of police state they seem to live in, with Madeleine informing someone over the phone about it, although without having been outside in 15 years, and Alfred Hickling interprets it as an allegory to the emergence of far right politics at the moment.

All in all, it was a fantastic play to see, even if I left feeling not a little flabbergasted and confused, but it was an enjoyable and very intriguing experience, which I recommend to anyone if they get a chance to see it. Lucy and I talked about it all the way home!

Amedee-016

Diana Spencer‘s input:

I find the challenges of absurdist theatre refreshing as well as provocative. Living within a context where norms and values seem to shift daily, and within which the ability of anyone to say ‘I belong’ with any sense of confidence has diminished, the worlds of Beckett and Ionescu become increasingly relevant. Like a number of the LANS group, I had been guided by the blurb into expecting something like Look Back in Anger (and was a little bit ambivalent about how such an adaptation would work). Perhaps a better way to my mind of characterising what we experienced was Joe Orton crossed with Monty Python, with a dash of Antonin Artaud.

The play left us processing the challenges of variant and fragile versions of ‘reality’, and it prodded us to examine what constitutes a sense of self and how this reacts to but also models the various modes of existence available to us. We wondered, discussing the play afterwards, whether the growing corpse was symbolic of the ego and its destructive potential. We also wondered to what extent the incomplete play (and the incomplete/dynamic corpse) signalled a wider challenge to the idea of iterative self-fashioning as a way of coming to terms with the daily grind of life. Is it ‘better’ or ‘worse’ to acquiesce to these patterns and normalise them? Or should we seek to ‘resolve’ the irregularities and the mundane experiences that frame them by stepping outside?

I think we all marvelled at the play and the ideas it generated; it’s not necessarily a play to like but it is a play to come back to, and kept creeping into my thoughts all weekend.

And another, shorter, comment: I went along with no idea what to expect and left with just as many thoughts flying around my head! Absolutely bonkers, but also hilarious and thought provoking.Lucy Fellows, Y2