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Gym and Tone-ic

Well I can’t believe it – it’s been two years (TWO YEARS!) since I last updated this blog.

But an elephant never forgets – especially not an elephant whose ballet leaps could be heard ricocheting around RAD HQ all that time ago – and I’m back, with a slightly different mission in mind this time…

Each year the RAD stages an event called the Genée International Ballet Competition. Known by many as ‘the friendly competition’ thanks to the atmosphere we create for our young charges over the 10-day experience, the Genée culminates in a series of performances on world-scale stages in front of knowledgable audiences and a jury made up of Artistic Directors.

It’s a genuine launchpad into the profession for those who excel, and a genuine joy for those in the audience, who witness extremely talented young people showing us – in many cases – the future of the art form.

But this all comes at a price; one which we try NOT to pass onto the young dancer. It costs us around £2,500 per candidate to stage the Genée, but we only pass a fraction of that onto the dancer in the form of entry fees.

The rest we subsidise through ticket sales, sponsorships and – you guessed it – fundraising.

And that’s what I’m here to talk about today, because I’ve decided to put my money where my job title (“Director of Fundraising and Development”) is…so I’m embarking on:

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For six weeks I’ll give up the gins and I’ll take up the gym…and I’ll be making a donation every time I replace a glass of wine with a pint of tap water. I’ll be asking my friends and colleagues to buy me ‘virtual drinks’ along the way too – and you can do the same by visiting www.justgiving.com/gymandtoneic

But I’ll ALSO be undertaking some kind of humiliating/challenging/novel exercise challenge each week too, and blogging about it here…you never know, some dance content may feature, so watch this space…

I’m now a week into my six weeks, and it’s been a slow start in terms of the exercising…pretty much all I can come up with is (thanks to my iPhone) a little log of my weekly commute…it turns out I walked:

  • 73,134 steps…
  • …which equals almost 32 miles:

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I know, I know – it’s just walking. But it’s a start.

Must do better; will do better…and your donation will help:

www.justgiving.com/gymandtoneic

Danses sans frontières

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While I was in Tallinn last weekend I stumbled across a performing arts degree show – three choreographers demonstrating their wares for friends, family, tutors and punters like me (albeit not many from the UK, I’d guess).
 
It was intriguing to see some examples of ‘student choreography’ – a change for me, since in my work I’m privileged to have the opportunity to see dancing at the very highest level, crafted by seasoned professionals who’ve worked their way up the ranks.
 
It all starts somewhere though…just maybe in a performance room in a university in Estonia, one of the smallest countries in the world (pop. 1.2m).
 
There were three performances, of varying quality and interest if I’m honest (the droopiness of my travel mate’s eyelids acting as one measure of this) but all quite fun in their own way.
 
One thing I really clocked that evening was the importance of choreographing the WHOLE piece; you don’t look at a painting and observe the brush strokes individually, you look at the effect of the whole work. In the same way you don’t just look at individual elements of dance in assessing its overall success, you look at the impact of the whole thing.
 
The whole is more than the sum of the parts.
 
How to put this diplomatically? I think that some of the choreography students hadn’t taken that on board, particularly in the case of one piece that was overlong to the point of self-indulgence. (Eyelid measure: completely shut for a sustained period.)
 
But it’s easy to be critical, particularly from a standpoint of almost complete ignorance, so I should say that actually they all did a good job – can’t be easy putting yourself on show like that for 10, 15, 30 minutes.
 
Hästi tehtud, one and all.
 
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Sky’s the limit

Sky’s the limit

I mentioned that Sky TV filmed us last week – here’s the proof!

Dispatches from Estonia

It’s been a busy two weeks in ballet land.

I wasn’t able to be at last week’s lesson because I was up in Scotland at a planning trip for this year’s Genee International Ballet Competition in Glasgow. Whilst I was there we managed to fit in a visit to Scottish Ballet, who are performing something called Highland Fling at the Theatre Royal (the same theatre we’ll use for the Genee Final in September).

Highland Fling is Matthew Bourne’s Celtic spin on La Sylphide, which for the uninitiated is one of the works firmly in the classical ballet canon. It tells the tale of a man whose heart is captured by a nymph…only in Bourne’s version the cast all wear kilts and ‘Scottishness’ is writ large throughout.

Superstar choreographer (do we have an equivalent word for “starchitect”?) Bourne is known for his contemporary take on the classics, and this one bears lots of his signature moves, all dressed up in tartan this time round.

It was fun and perhaps it would have been even more so if I’d understood the cultural references a little better (which the Glaswegian audience clearly did). The first scene featured drunken ladies and gents on their relative hen and stag dos…since I’m writing this en route to Tallinn for a long weekend, I’m expecting to see more of the same in the next couple of days – only played out with a whole lot fewer pirouettes and grands jeters.

This week my lesson was somewhat different to usual…we had Sky TV along for the ride. They were filming for a spot on Sky Sports News talking about dance as a path to fitness. For once I wasn’t the only boy in town – there was a younger, fitter, more dashing guy in class, so if you happen across the footage of the lesson you can pretend he’s me.

Things worked out such that I had to temporarily defect from my normal lesson in order to be there for the Sky stuff. This meant a different teacher and a more advanced lesson…which had me flailing all over the place trying to keep up.

Message to self: must practice more.

The long day is over

So it’s the end of a very long week, but I’m on a complete high following today’s performance showcase at the RAD’s Dance for Lifelong Wellbeing conference – within a two hour span I saw performers aged 8 to 80 perform ballet, hip hop, street dance, contemporary dance, musical theatre, Indian dance.

And really, it’s been a pretty amazing few weeks. April 2013 will go down as the month I:

  • donned a tutu for the first time
  • met RAD staff from 45 different countries, representing 79 territories in which we conduct business
  • met former Strictly contestant Lisa Riley to talk through her upcoming patronage of the Dance Proms
  • saw Darcey Bussell preside over a group of 3-year-olds as they performed a special Barbie-inspired dance routine in front of the RAD’s good and great
  • met former Pussycat Doll Carmit Bachar at the riotous Step into Dance borough event in Wandsworth
  • learned that dance truly does have the capacity to improve our lives, whatever age we are

Sometimes it’s the picture that speaks a thousand words, so I’ll button my lip and let the following visuals do the talking…

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Dance = longevity

I’ve taken a somewhat irreverent look at dance throughout my weeks writing this blog. But I hope that doesn’t mean the more serious aspects of the experience of dance and the teaching of dance haven’t had a chance to shine through every now and then.

Yesterday I saw a masterclass in this type of communication, as Gillian Lynne took to the stage to give the keynote talk at the RAD’s Dance for Lifelong Wellbeing. This is the Gillian Lynne who is about to receive a lifelong achievement award at the Oliviers, the Gillian Lynne who choreographed Cats and many other West End and Broadway shows, the Gillian Lynne who worked once upon a time with Errol Flynn.

As she took to the stage, the first revelation was that Gillian is 87 years old. 87! Honestly, the woman looks at least twenty years younger. It is quite extraordinary, and if that’s not a good enough reason to dance then you’re not wired the way I am.

She began to speak and what followed was a torrent of energy and wit and joy and insight that had everyone in the room beaming and uplifted by the end of the speech.

But despite the storytelling, there were serious points and they were powerfully made. “Dance,” said Gillian, gesturing towards her body, “gives us the knowledge we need to keep this machine going.”

She also had interesting things to say on the nature of dance teaching, arguing that it’s not enough to get the technique right, the teacher must inject a certain magic into the air…the earth needs to move for dance teaching to really hit the mark.

Gillian will receive her Olivier accolade tomorrow night in Covent Garden – tune into BBC Radio 2 for live coverage, or ITV for a highlights programme after the event.

I’m part of the team tweeting throughout the three-day conference – go ahead and follow us at @RADheadquarters, or search using the hashtag #DanceforWellbeing.

To gym-finity and beyond!

It’s no secret that dancers are a pretty fit bunch. And now that the tutu photo has left the building, it’s no longer a secret that I have some work to do on that front.
 
And so I have joined a gym. Moreover, I have BEEN to said gym, three days running. Moreover I have RUN to said gym, three days running.
 
It’s a fairly well-known fact that Brits sign up to gyms in droves and then fail to turn up on any kind of frequent basis after about a week of attempting to tackle the BOSU balls and free weights and treadmills and other instruments of torture.
 
I am determined this will not apply to me. (For this week, at least.)
 
To support my fledgling ballet career, I’ll be focusing my efforts on the following:
 
  • Core strength – developing the tummy muscles and those in the lower back in order to be able to strike the correct pose
  • Stamina – a ballet class, clocking in at around an hour and a quarter, is not the same as a quick jog or a brisk walk from the Tube – it demands sustained output of energy
  • Flexibility – my hamstrings are so tight you could play a violin concerto on them – this needs attention
  • Strength in my legs – I’m not bad going up on my toes, but lifting my leg in the old grand battement (which autocorrects as ‘battlement’ – perhaps more insightful than it seems at first) is a struggle 
Plenty to be going on with then.

Metaphor in motion

Our regular ballet mistress was away today so we had a ‘supply mistress’ (do we call them that?) instead.

We covered the same steps as always and the class followed what I assume to be the tried, tested and true format.

But having a change in teacher has got me thinking about two things: first, and I suppose obviously, how the different personality and style of the teacher changes the feel of the class even though the content remains the same.

But second, how ballet teachers all seem to use metaphor to great effect in order to describe the various comportments and techniques of ballet.

Just describing how to adopt the right basic stance is fertile territory for our creative ballet mistresses (and, presumably, ballet masters although I don’t have personal experience).

Holly always talks about imagining your vertebrae as marshmallows that must be allowed to expand to their fullest extent in order for the dancer to achieve the right extension of their back and thus the right pose.

And today our supply mistress talked about visualising yourself as a fountain, which I thought was a lovely image: the solid column of water representing the strong line of the body’s core, with the picturesque spout at the top representing the graceful lines of the shoulders and arms.

This is all important because ballet isn’t of course just about getting the mechanics right, it’s about overall presentation and fluidity and musicality. Which I suppose is what makes it so bloody difficult.

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“Arms DOWN, Matthew…”

Thus came the refrain today, as I took part in a ballet class led by RAD Artistic Director Lynn Wallis, and accompanied by resident maestro Jonathan Still.

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In the photo I’m the ‘black’ swan; I’m joined by RAD Principal Dancer (well…Financial Controller) Richard Slatford, who’s sporting the white ensemble.

Our hour’s coaching culminated with a gala performance featuring all sorts of fancy footwork, but my stubborn arms wouldn’t play ball – hence Ballet Mistress Wallis’s siren call: “Arms DOWN, Matthew…”

One to pick up in tomorrow’s weekly ballet lesson – after a three week respite, it’s time to get those toes back to the grindstone.

I should perhaps point out: I don’t make a habit of wearing the tutu to class – only when fundraising is on the agenda (we’re raising money for our ballet competition the Genée – it’s for elite young people, so I fail on every count). If you’d like to contribute please go to http://www.justgiving.com/challengenee2013

BUMPER WEEK sneak preview

Well I know I’ve been conspicuous by my absence over the past few weeks.

So as a special bonus, I am going to blog every day for the next seven days.

As an extra special bonus, some of it will be blogging whilst wearing a tutu. Don’t believe me? See the attached photo and gird yourselves for tomorrow’s update…

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