Live Ballet and Theatre – At a cinema near you!

Over the course of the past year there has been a surge in world class theatre, ballet and opera companies, even art galleries, screening their performances, either live or pre-recorded. I was initially sceptical about this as there’s always something magical about going to a theatre and watching things live within their own settings with an audience buzzing around you and being able to take in all the action. My initial thought to cinema screenings was whether the atmosphere would be much flatter and how I’d react to my eye being specifically drawn in a particular direction. It’s barmy when you think about those worries, as we all at some point sit down to watch live ceremonies and sports competitions on our TV.

And it was barmy.

Call me a convert.

The first screening I attended was the Royal Ballet’s live broadcast of Swan Lake from the Royal Opera House. Now I never had ballet lessons as a child and the only ballet I’d ever seen was The Snowman when I was about 10 and somehow I don’t think that counts as I can’t actually remember any of it. So this really was my first proper experience of ballet. I have to be honest, it took me a while to get the hang of it and settle into the performance as I found it bizarre going into a performance that didn’t have any dialogue. And yes, I do know that sounds daft, but I’m sure I’m not the only one who has felt that. The performance actually started with an introduction by Darcey Bussell. This was actually a really nice touch as it allowed people to see some of the cast before the opening act and to be introduced to the work. There were also interviews with cast members and the production team throughout the intervals. If you’re interested in seeing any of those interviews they are on the Royal Opera House youtube page. Go and check them out because they are really interesting, give you a different perspective on the work and an insight into the workings of a professional ballet.

Although I’m definitely no expert on ballet, what I will say is that the power and agility of the dancers is very evident over the big screen, particularly Natalia Osipova whose poise and elegance is just insane. It’s hard not to appreciate the physicality of the double swan role as Odette and Odile, despite how easy it’s made to look. It’s great to see close up shots and different perspectives that really help to keep track of the narrative, if you’re a novice like me, as well as seeing all the nuances which you wouldn’t be able to sat at the back of the Royal Opera House.

Another aspect that I hadn’t counted on was the immediacy of the audience feedback through social media, something that the screening itself promoted. The moment the intervals started many people turned to their phones to see what was happening on twitter and #ROHswanlake actually trended worldwide. It’s phenomenal that we’re now able to connect on such a huge scale with such immediate effect.

For me this was a great way to be introduced to ballet and makes performances like this much more accessible. At £17 the tickets were high for a cinema, but much more affordable than booking at the Royal Opera House and adding in travel into London. If you’re looking for an introduction to ballet, or simply can’t make the trip to see it, then the cinema is the perfect alternative.

The following week I was back on more familiar territory as I went to see Maxine Peake as Hamlet, a pre-recorded performance from the Manchester Royal Exchange. The cinema screening worked particularly well for this work as it was set in the round, allowing the cinema audience the luxury of all angles. Once again it was a pretty full audience who probably enjoyed the fact that they had more leg room than in most theatres… although I really didn’t appreciate the person who took 10 hours to unwrap the crinkliest wrapped sweet on earth.

The actual performance was incredible with a stellarHamlet quote cast. Maxine Peake plays a very young Hamlet, stark and brutal, but with a sharp wit. The performance is edgy and plays off the cast very well, seeming alienated from all, except from maybe Thomas Arnold as Horatio, a relationship I think works very naturally. I also enjoyed Katie West’s performance as Ophelia, wounded and innocent, devastated by the loss of her (in this production) mother, dissolving into a very distressing madness scene. The only cast member I felt disappointed in was Ashley Zhangazha as Laertes. For me he never seemed to quite settle into the role, seeming almost too wild. However I thought the ensemble as a whole was great, focussing wholly on Hamlet’s revenge. Once again I thought this work translated well onto the screen, except for one very odd slow motion moment, a liberty from the editor that did little and seemed out of place.

You can now count me an advocate for screening theatre. I think it’s another route into live performance and is very accessible. There is such a great range of work being screened that anyone can find something they will enjoy. Over the summer there will be screenings of National Theatre’s Everyman starring Chiwetel Ejiofor, English National Opera’s The Pirates of Penzance, and the Royal Shakespeare Company’s Merchant of Venice to name but a few. So have a look, try something new, and see what you think.

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Arts Award – Personal Arts Development

As part of the Gold Arts Award we have to develop ourselves as artists. Part of this is attending events and reviewing them, in order to learn from them and reflect on how they can influence our own art form.

Previously I have been involved in concerts as a singer, and have acted in plays and musicals. I’m always intrigued by the use of the voice in works of art, and I was very lucky to see Melanie Pappenheim perform ‘Falling’ at the IFMK:2014. The use of the voice in such a way, in those particular surroundings, was very new to me and I began to think more on how you can use the voice in theatre, not just in traditional song form or spoken word.

Last night I attended John at the National Theatre, presented by DV8, a physical theatre company. The artistic director Lloyd Newson plays on the interaction between voice and movement in an incredibly interesting way and I found the whole piece very moving. This was the first proper piece of physical theatre that I’ve seen, so it was interesting for me to see how music, voice overs and movement were combined in such serious subject matter.

I’m still putting together my full review on it so you will see that tomorrow.

I think this element of the Arts Award is really exciting as it makes you evaluate what you already know, and then build on that foundation, encouraging you to explore the arts and experience new techniques and ideas. It makes you want to move out of your comfort zone and I’m really enjoying that challenge in itself.

Children in Need and the celebrity choir

For those not in the UK, BBC Children in Need is a massive charity event that happens annually culminating in a national broadcast on the second Friday in November. In the weeks leading up to the broadcast schools, clubs, individuals across the UK take part in fundraising events, with the proceeds going to the charity, their vision being that every child in the UK has a safe, happy and secure childhood that allows them the chance to reach their potential.

It is incredible the volume of famous faces that get involved and this year is no different. For the official Children in Need single choirmaster Gareth Malone created a choir of celebrities to record and perform a cover of Avicii‘s ‘Wake Me Up’. Comedians, presenters, a Strictly Come Dancing judge, actors, actresses…. and a host of kids as well.

Let’s be honest, no one was expecting much, but somehow they managed to be worse than anyone thought. Luckily, with a boost of confidence, a bit of coaching and a lot of hard work they gradually began to realise what being in a choir meant. They started to work together, listen to each other and by the time they got to recording they were sounding a lot more like a choir.

That doesn’t mean that the recording wasn’t hard work. It really looked and sounded like it was. But they got there and the track sounds really good, definitely worthy of being the official BBC Children in Need single. Gareth Malone really shows that anyone, no matter how much experience or confidence they have in the first place, can sing and can sing in a choir.

It’s great to see people discovering a love of singing and despite initial nerves you can tell that they are enjoying themselves on stage while performing the song. It’s such a great track involving so many great celebrities and kids, as well as the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra. Please go check it out and if you feel compelled to, donate to Children in Need, it’s a great cause and they do brilliant work.

‘A Year to Inspire’ inspiring others

I always love finding new blogs as you enter into other people’s worlds as they share parts of their life with you. One blog in particular that has really stood out for me this year is A Year To Inspire. The premise is to keep a journal for a year and that on each day you have a prompt, an idea, that you explore.

Stephanie and Annetta decided to go on this journey and it’s been really fascinating gaining an insight into their lives, thoughts, aspirations and creativity.

One of the things that really strikes me about their blog is just how creative they are and how beautiful each page of their journals are. Each page is stunningly crafted, unique and portrays a new part of their personality every day. It seems like such a creative outlet, a chance to try new techniques and challenge yourself to be creative every single day.

From the silly prompts such as ‘which fairytale character or Disney princess would you be?‘ to the more serious ‘what are your aspirations?‘ each day is intriguing. The care and attention these two women put into the journals is impressive… and it sort of makes you want to join in too!

Prompt: Write a list of books on your 'to read' list.

Prompt: Write a list of books on your ‘to read’ list.

Arts and humantities vs STEM. Why is it a competition?

There has been a lot of controversy over the past couple of days caused by Nicky Morgan’s comments at the Your Life campaign. There has been a backlash from the arts and humanities communities as her comments downgraded these subject areas and instead proclaimed that the STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) subjects were the way to keep young people’s options open. Yes, there is a place for these subjects but there are also places for the arts and humanities that are equally important and are just as valuable at STEM subjects.

I cannot understand for one thing how you can value certain subjects based on the earning potential of the jobs they can lead to. There are many people who studied arts and humanities who make a good living, a living that they are happy with, in a field that they love. For many people the sciences and maths are just not for them, just as the arts and humanities are not for others. How can we school people to value some subjects over others based on earning potential rather than the strengths of the student? The arts can have such a great social impact on young people, their development of self-worth, confidence and concentration. Is this not more important than earning potential?

Another element of the argument for promoting STEM subjects was the imbalance of how many boys take these subjects compared to girls. Having gone to an all girls school between the ages of 7 – 18 I have always been aware of the glass ceiling, and it has always been drilled into me that I should pursue any subject I liked. There was no such thing as a boy subject or a girl subject. My headteacher had a motto of ‘be the best you can be’ and was a great advocate of encouraging girls to pursue their interests. I remember being sent on a science day between three schools to encourage us to take sciences to A Level and I enjoyed sciences and loved maths, but the arts were always my bag. I find it hard to believe that in this day and age we still have to address the fact that girls don’t feel comfortable to take sciences and girls should be encouraged into the areas, but not at the expense of others.

This isn’t the same however as degrading the arts and humanities. My first music teacher told me I was ‘too academic to do music as a career’, another told me that I shouldn’t do music as I ‘didn’t practice enough’ even though I was stronger at the research and historical side, and when I decided to drop the maths side of my joint degree after first year and instead do a full music degree I had friends argue that it was a  bad decision, I’d drastically decrease my job prospects and that I wouldn’t earn as much. How on earth has this opinion become so ingrained?

I have not regretted my decision for one moment.

I definitely value the fact that I have a good numeracy level, and I enjoyed sciences to GCSE and took maths and further maths to A Level and into university, but that does not change the fact that music was my strength, I have learnt a huge range of skills through it and I am now pursuing a career in the arts, something I love. I will always be grateful that I went to a school that encouraged me to reach my potential in whatever field I wanted, regardless of earning potential or gender bias. Pupils should be encouraged to explore a range of interests but that does not mean that some interests are more valuable than others and that taking the arts and humanities closes doors. By not partaking in these areas you can close just as many doors as not studying STEM subjects.

Colour Bandits – KickThePJ / PJ Liguori

Youtube is a weird and wonderful world of creativity, bursting at the seams, over-flowing with new ideas and creators. There is a freedom about youtube that allows for an outpouring of innovation and original thought. I have been an avid viewer of youtubers since 2007 and I am still blown away by how creators continue to develop and evolve.

One of my favourite creators is the film maker PJ Liguori, aka KickThePJ. His quirky imagination is vividly translated onto the screen and I am really enjoying seeing him attempt more complex shoots, challenge his storytelling abilities and collaborate with other artists.

It’s at this point that I’d like to direct you to Colour Bandits.

Cinematography by Director Jamie Swarbrick and music by PJ, who plays the bandit, Colour Bandits is wonderful in it’s simplicity. The costume and make up by Sophie Newton and Louis Grant work perfectly. I find it very inspiring that a whole story can be told in 2 minutes, with only a plain white set, plain white clothing, and a collection of colourful powders. The music and the lilting tone of PJ’s voice meld with the artistry of the cinematography to create a whole new world.

It is a stand alone piece, as many of PJ’s works are, and I encourage you to explore them.

Director & Cinematography: Jamie Swarbrick

Music & Bandit: PJ Liguori

Costume & Make-up: Sophie Newton & Louis Grant

Additional Help: James Allen & Georgie Woodley

We will remember them

For anyone not in the UK who has not heard,Poppies in remembrance of the centenary of the start of World War I a huge installation has been growing over the past two months in the moat of the Tower of London, a sea of poppies, 888,246, one for each of the British soldiers lost in the war. The poppies were created by ceramic artist Paul Cummins and the setting designed by stage designer Tom Piper.

On Friday evening I made the journey to the Tower to see the poppies. By the time I arrived the sun had set, so it was under floodlights that I saw them. The scale of the installation is what is so astounding as the entire tower is surrounded, flooding the area in a sea of red. The differing heights of the poppies adds another element as they form waves as you walk past, and the tears that spill out from the tower itself is a very moving touch.

The tears

The good news is that they have decided to keep these sections intact until the end of November, allowing more people to see them, rather than take down the installation on Wednesday as originally planned. It was astonishing how many people crammed into the small walkways to see the poppies and I can only imagine how many thousands of people have made a special trip to the site since the poppies were first planted.

There has been a lot of debate recently, brought about by the publicity given the poppies of the tower, as to how the symbol of a poppy is now perceived. For me, and many others, the poppy is a symbol of remembrance. It reminds us of all those who lost their lives in service to their country, in the world wars and in every war. It is a reminder of everything we lost, and everything we maintained, and that there are still soldiers and their families who need help and support. To think it as anything else is, I think, to miss the point entirely.

Unknown Soldier

Unknown soldier3Also on Friday a brass statue of the Unknown Soldier was unveiled in Trafalgar Square as part of the Every Man Remembered campaign, commemorating the 1,117,077 men and women of the Commonwealth who fell during World War I. The figure stands tall with poppies fluttering and falling around him, a very poignant display. I was particularly struck by the soldier having his eyes closed as it seems to invoke a sense of self reflection and remembrance. The sculpture, a collaboration with artist Mark Humphrey, will be in place until 16th November before going on tour around the UK for the next four years.

Both the poppies at the Tower of London and the Every Man Remembered sculpture are remarkable reminders of all those lost in the First World War, and mark the centenary with understated poignancy.