Posted on April 29, 2021
May 17 is set to be a red letter day for the performing arts here in the UK – the date when (if COVID-19 infections continue to fall) theatres can at last reopen safely. As we go to press with this latest issue of Dancing Times, the signs seem to be good –let’s hope everything continues to go to plan. Things seems to be less clear-cut away from the UK, with further cancellations of live performances happening in Europe, and North and South America, and this month we discover how companies in France, Germany and Italy have been coping with continued lockdowns. We hear, too, how lockdown has affected some of the dancers here in the UK, including Adam Cooper from the world of theatre dance, and members of the ballroom and Latin competitive world. We also continue with Kenneth Olumuyiwa Tharp’s exploration of diversity in dance, this month focusing on classical ballet.
“Then, on March 23, the first lockdown in the UK started. Over the next two to three months, one by one, all my projects were cancelled. I’m normally a very positive person, but the ever-extending length of lockdown was hard even for me. I kept hoping the pandemic would recede, checking the infection numbers in the UK and worldwide every day religiously with my daughter, hoping my next project would be able to happen. Slowly, I began to realise we were in this forced break for the long haul.
“All my planned projects were fantastically exciting, and it really was going to be an exceptional year. My career tends to take the shape of one year mostly choreographing, the next mostly performing, but 2020 should have been a wonderful mix of both. Plus I was getting to direct two huge Leonard Bernstein productions in Munich, which was a dream come true. So, from a professional point of view, the lockdown was devastating. Financially it was devastating, too. Along with so many others, I fell through all the gaps in government support.”
“Classical music and classical ballet have much in common, in that both have been so homogenous for so many years. For most of my adult life, it’s been common to walk into a concert hall or theatre and not see a single person of colour on stage. In 2015, the Chineke! Foundation, of which I am a trustee, was founded by renowned double-bassist Chi-chi Nwanoku, to try to address the lack of representation of Black, Asian and ethnically diverse musicians in classical music, especially in the main orchestras. Some 14 years earlier, Cassa Pancho founded Ballet Black for similar reasons – a professional ballet company that celebrates dancers of Black and Asian descent in an attempt to address the lack of representation of such dancers in larger classical ballet companies.
“Ballet Black’s stated mission was to one day become ‘wonderfully unnecessary’. The fact that the company is still here, some 20 years later, is both a tribute to its artistic success, the tenacity of Pancho herself, and the fact that it is, sadly, in terms of its mission, still necessary. It seemed fitting to start my conversations with Pancho, and I began by asking her where she thought we were in terms of progress. She expressed concern that ballet is not in a great place right now. Part of the problem is: ‘Some people are yet to acknowledge that racism is a very real, everyday occurrence. I’ve been told there isn’t racism in the UK, and it’s very difficult for us to all move on as an industry until people in power acknowledge that there is something to do, and to then move on from there.’”
“Ballroom dancers Sean Smullen and Aimie Leak have also worked hard to stay focused. ‘Although times have been very tough over the last year, we’ve both endeavoured to utilise our time the best we can, with a positive mindset,’ they say. ‘We’re incredibly fortunate to have been able to practise through the majority of this pandemic. Our studio is situated in a very quiet area of Wicklow, which meant we were not in contact with anyone and therefore at very low risk,’ they say. ‘Also, Ireland is fortunate to recognise dancesport as an official sport, and elite athletes have been permitted to train individually throughout the full lockdown.
“‘Before, as we were constantly on and off planes, we had very little time to spare. Days where we were not travelling we would do a few hours of technical practice, followed by lunch and then teaching. Literally: eat, sleep, dance, repeat. As we did not have too much free time, and were constantly tired, we devoted very little time to our performance or the cardio element of training, and would perform finals a maximum of once a week. ’”
Michael Corder responds to Karen Berry’s article about versatility in dance training
Alison Gallagher-Hughes interviews ballroom legend Lynette Boyce
Paul Arrowsmith talks to teacher Richard Glasstone
James Whitehead explores leading and following skills
Laura Cappelle interviews Julie Guibert, the new director of the Lyon Opéra Ballet
Simon Selmon writes on learning how to improvise
Jeannette Andersen goes behind-the-scenes at the Bavarian State Ballet’s The Blizzard
Jack Reavely recalls a lesson at Blackpool with Brenda Winslade
Margaret Willis meets Phoenix Dance Theatre’s Aaron Chaplin
Phil Meacham asks if technique changes
Debbie Malina looks at analgesics
Pete Meager explores an adjudicator’s perspective on judging equality dance competitions
Live dance returns to the UK, Kevin McKenzie retires from American Ballet Theatre, choreographer Liam Scarlett dies at 35, The British Ballet Charity Gala, The Royal Ballet’s 2021–22 season, Arts and Culture Impact Fund, The Barre, Lauren Lovette to leave New York City Ballet, Royal Academy of Dance acquires rare portrait of Tamara Karsavina; La Scala’s Nureyev Gala, Roland Petit’s Notre-Dame de Paris at the Paris Opéra, the Maryinsky Ballet dance The Nutcracker and The Legend of Love, American Ballet Theatre stream works by Alexei Ratmansky; Sheila Buckley and Mollie Davies remembered in Obituaries; New dance books by Twyla Tharp and Gavin Larsen reviewed; Trinity Laban offer new courses, ArtsEd appoints new director of Musical Theatre, Elmhurst Ballet School; calendar dates for performances in the UK and abroad; we look back to May 1981