Just in! Watch trailer for our October half-term show, The Man Who Planted Trees

We’re celebrating October half-term in style this year with Puppet State Theatre Company and their beautiful adaptation of Jean Giono’s novel The Man Who Planted Trees. A unique blend of comedy, puppetry and storytelling, this show even has live smells and sounds plus an ecological message. Have a look at this video for a sneak peak.

‘It is very, very rare to find something that appeals as effortlessly to children and adults as this magical show.’ ★★★★★ (The Scotsman)
 

 

See Puppet State Theatre Company’s The Man Who Planted Trees at Southbank Centre’s Purcell Room from 25 – 28 October. Get tickets here. 

George Gershwin reinvented by The Beach Boys legend Brian Wilson

This weekend, Southbank Centre welcomes The Beach Boys frontman and songwriter Brian Wilson to Royal Festival Hall. As well as performing the hits from his Beach Boy days, Brian will also showcase his critically acclaimed album ‘Brian Wilson Reimagines Gershwin’. Here’s what the critics have to say:

He turns ‘Summertime’ into a doo-wop ballad, tricks out ‘They Can’t Take That Away From Me’ with brass and lush harmonies, and teleports ‘Someone to Watch Over Me’ from Broadway to sun-splashed California. The result is Porgy and Bess-meets-Pet Sounds: lovely, weird, subtly psychedelic symphonic lounge music. By the time the album ends with a gorgeous, string-laden rendition of the main theme from ‘Rhapsody in Blue,’ you can’t help but ask: Is Brian Wilson the baby-boomer George Gershwin? Or was Gershwin the first Beach Boy?

Rolling Stone

A winning collection of songs and arrangements done with great style.
It’s only right to be sceptical when approaching this album. Just how has Brian Wilson, former leading light of The Beach Boys, approached these songs that have, largely, been covered so many times since they were written back in the 1920s and 30s? But any qualms are soon dispelled by his engaging performances and the imaginative arrangements, ones that remain faithful to the spirit of their melodic and harmonic core values.

BBC Music

See Brian Wilson at Southbank Centre’s Royal Festival Hall 16 – 18 September 2011. Get tickets here.

Celebrating African dance – spotlight on Ballet Nimba

Ballet Nimba has started making ripples in the UK dance scene.  Guinean-born Idrissa Camara, founder of this young Cardiff-based company talks to ADAD (Association of Dance of the African Diaspora) about his passions, influences and plans for Ballet Nimba’s future.

When did you establish Ballet Nimba and what have been your major challenges in getting the company off the ground?

A year and a half ago I was working with SWICA (South Wales Intercultural Community Arts) and the director Steve Fletcher saw my potential and encouraged me to try for a small project grant, from The Arts Council of Wales. With Steve’s help and my wife Lowri, I put together my ideas for my first choreography here in the UK.   The day I learned I had been successful in getting the funding was the same day my daughter Ariana was born so a really exciting day for us!

 

I had no idea how difficult it was to start a dance company here. I couldn’t find people to do the dance.  There is no other African Dance company here in Wales and most community dancers found it too difficult, they said it was too energetic! Professional dancers didn’t really know me so wouldn’t audition for the project.   Luckily in Bristol I had help from Rubba and Kirby from DMAC (Dance Music Arts Collective).   I gave them my idea and they suggested people to work with.  I was lucky to find some really good dancers, a mix of community and professional artists, but rehearsals were challenging.  I was relying so much on the artists’ goodwill as I had so little money to pay them and this was frustrating.  People often had other things to do or had to start late or leave early and this slowed down the creative process with me often having to go over the same thing again and again.  It also makes it difficult to have discipline which is something which would be unquestioned in Guinea.   As well as the dance side I was arranging all the live music and so decided to work with African musicians I had worked with previously so that I could trust them to give me the music I wanted.  They were based all over the UK so this again was very challenging.  These issues continue to be my main difficulties but the energy from the dancers helped me to believe in what am doing.  I also believe that using such fantastic musicians is what makes Ballet Nimba’s performances special and so I continue to try and use the best talent I can.

 

Our first performance was in Cardiff, on the street!  It was hard but an amazing feeling and the Arts Council liked it so much they invited me to meet with them. This year I received another small project grant and a training grant which I have used for learning more about dance in the UK and getting mentorship from established artists Bawren Tavaziva and Deborah Baddoo.  As well as the support of the artists themselves, I have been helped so much by my wife with all the administration, web design, flyer design, promotion and marketing, all new to her and all done while she was on maternity leave!   Steve also continues to be a valued advisor as well as Jeanette Bain-Burnett, ADAD Director, who supported my initial funding application, came to see my work, gave feedback and advice and the opportunity to perform at the Bloom Festival in Bristol.

What are your passions and how are these embodied in your practice rooted, as it is, in Guinean dance forms?

I’m passionate about being an ambassador for my culture.  I love my country and my tribes, their mythology and strong music and dance traditions.  Les Ballets Africains du Guinee have toured the world since the 1950’s but Guinean dance is not well known here in the UK.  I want to share my culture as we believe dancing makes you stronger, emotionally and physically.  This is very important in Guinea to stay strong, for yourself, for your family, and to make people happy because life there is difficult.  I love dance because I found it when there was nothing else in my life.  It’s who I am and has given me all my opportunities.  I meet people and I travel and it’s something to be proud of as an African, as a Guinean.  I want people here to know our strength, our identity, how is Africa when there’s not war or trouble.

Which artists have influenced your practice thus far?

My mentor in Africa, my teacher since I was 11 years old was Bangalli Bangoura former dancer with Les Ballets Africain. He and Lobilo Toure taught us in Ballet Bassikolo [Idrissa was a member of Ballet Bassikolo from 1991 to 2002] where under the direction of Badjibi Camara they trained us and disciplined us and inspired us. They were very strict, we would train many hours a day and there are always new young dancers coming wanting their opportunity, who want to work even harder and longer!  I also admire Moustapha Bangoura who danced with Bangalli in Les Ballets Africains and is now based in USA.  All three of us are from the Baga tribe, one of the smallest tribes in Guinea, but renowned for talented dancers.  Nimba is the name of the Baga mask, the strong female protector spirit, the embodiment of femininity and fertility, the spirit of our ancestors.  Italo Zambo and Hamidou Bangoura were choreographers of Ballets Africain and Ballet Joliba who I have admired very much, for their use of music, theatre, comedy, and dance.  In Guinea we are very proud of our musical and dance traditions and their significance, they tell us our heritage, our backgrounds, our history.

 

Bawren Tavaziva was the first person who inspired me in this country. I have been to watch contemporary dance to understand how I fit in here, some I liked, some I didn’t, and some I didn’t understand. The first time I saw Tavaziva’s work it spoke to me as did the work of Alesandra Seutin.  State of Emergency and Alvin Ailey Dance Theatre are other companies who have given me ideas about African-contemporary dance and contemporary-African dance!
What, in your opinion, are the greatest challenges facing African Peoples’ Dance in the UK, right now?

In Guinea we have more than 37 tribes with their own culture, dance, and music. All dances have their meaning, so it would be good to have Guinean dance be recognised as its own style rather than being always called African dance.  I think outside of ADAD and other African dance companies, people think dance from Africa is all the same, and this means I have had a difficult time having what I do recognised as a professional dance form by some venues in Wales.  They don’t recognise my work as dance theatre, or believe there’s no audience.   Often in west Africa artists have not had good education and so this means it’s hard for us to promote ourselves here [in the UK] and access funding and support so we can change these attitudes.  Also when you say traditional dance, they think this is something from the past, something which we have to make an effort to keep alive as with many traditional dances here. But if you go to the streets of Guinea this is the dance that young people are performing, at street parties, festivals. I want people to understand that this is traditional but in Guinea this is also contemporary, the energy the young people have there is amazing and our population like all of Africa is very young. Here you have street dance but all this comes from African dance.  For me the UK is behind the rest of Europe and America when it comes to Guinean dance. There it’s very popular but here, too, people now want to learn it more and more and this helps to develop audiences for professional performances.

Can you tell us what audiences can expect from your upcoming performance at the ADAD Bloom Festival, London?

Beautiful Guinean music, high energy dancing, some storytelling, some masks. We have an amazing Fulani Flute player and the beautiful Ngoni a West African acoustic guitar.  Of course there are the fantastic percussionists and some spectacular solo dances at the end!   I hope it will make people look again at traditional dance, the piece is very traditional, but also see the origins of so many African-contemporary movement.

What is your vision for Ballet Nimba over the next 5 years? 

To get to the point where we can tour here in the UK and plan our research and development, and rehearsal time, so that we can properly pay our artists.  This year we have already started working with a lighting designer and sound engineer which is a new experience for me.  I want to keep working with my mentors and engaging with other artists and performances so that I can develop my work organically and at my own pace, as I myself, am evolving and changing simply by having to adopt a completely new culture and way of life!   We want to develop the education side of Ballet Nimba and we would even hope to perform internationally if given the opportunity.   I have never been good at scaling down my ambitions so I always want to aim high.   So far we have started Ballet Nimba on very little money and actually achieved quite a lot, so anything’s possible!
Ballet Nimba are performing as part of the ADAD Bloom Festival Mixed Bill at Southbank Centre’s Purcell Room on 24 & 25 September. Get tickets here.

Flayin’ Alive: Interview with choreographer Karole Armitage

‘I’m not dancing,’ Karole Armitage says, talking about the upcoming set of performances that Dance Umbrella will be presenting in London this autumn. ‘It’s too hard!’

While this is perhaps unfortunate, it’s also understandable. At 57 Armitage has no desire to get up onstage and shake a leg or, more accurately given her erstwhile gifts as a dancer, rocket into and then throw off-kilter an incredible balance. Now she’d much rather leave it to others (‘My remarkable dancers,’ she calls them) to negotiate her often fabulous mix of classical and contemporary movement.

 

Karole Armitage

 
As a choreographer, and the artistic director of the New York-based company Armitage Gone! Dance, Armitage has cultivated a reputation for artistic innovation that ultimately helped transport her from her birthplace in Madison, Wisconsin to a decade and half of living and making work in Europe. ‘Though I have a very independent, American pioneer spirit,’ she explains, ‘I am European in my expectation of how art can be produced and consumed. I’m still an outsider in the United States, and an explorer everywhere.’

Either side of the big slice of time she spent abroad, Armitage studied film-making, cooked up the dances for the terrific Broadway revival of Hair and worked with the likes of Mikhail Baryshnikov, Michael Clark (in his novice days), Madonna and Michael Jackson. In 2012 she’s been hired to choreograph a production for Cirque du Soleil.

Clearly what fuels her work is a healthy push-and-pull of eclectic creative forces. Just consider her career trajectory. Rigorously trained in ballet, she followed a few seasons of dancing for Ballet du Grand Théâtre de Genève (where the repertory was exclusively that of the Russian-born genius, George Balanchine) with five years as an outstanding member of the masterly Merce Cunningham’s Manhattan-based troupe. For a young dancer, who at the time knew next to nothing about modern dance, it could hardly get any better – or so it seemed. ‘The first couple of years with Merce were thrilling,’ she says. ‘I was about 20 years old and he was creating me. I was learning a new way to think and move, and meeting Jasper Johns and Bob Rauschenberg, and touring with John Cage. I loved it.’

Armitage, however, had a mind of her own. Eventually, as she admits, ‘The thrill was gone and I wanted to explore new ideas.’ And so she became her own muse, stimulated as well by the lovely abrasions that collaboration with cutting-edge composers (like Rhys Chatham) and trend-setting designers and visual artists (Charles Atlas, David Salle and, a little later, Jeff Koons) can bring.

A molten pixie with a voracious talent, Armitage became an overnight sensation in 1981 with Drastic-Classicism. An audacious mix of blistering, red-hot motion and blastingly high-decibel live sound, this controversial dance (at Queen Elizabeth Hall on 11 & 12 October) became her international calling card. It also reinforced her status as the reigning ‘punk ballerina’ of post-modern dance.

Those two words still cling to Armitage’s name, but she doesn’t mind. But how much of the punk label was real and how much, in the words of dance critic Arlene Croce, just ‘a sophisticated ploy’?

‘In the mid-1970s I was thinking about how dance was all about no,’ Armitage recalls. ‘No virtuosity, no emotion, no costume, no story, etc. This moralistic stance didn’t appeal to me; I felt it was leading to an audience of insiders. I wanted instead to connect to an audience with all the beautiful history of the art form, combining the refinement and poetry of ballet with the intimacy and intellectual tradition of modern dance – not to mention some rebellious rock (or punk) spirit thrown in. So yes, to a great extent it was a ploy, a device for forging a new dance vocabulary with a tongue-in-cheek relationship to punk. But the serious side of my interest in punk was that it wasn’t formulaic. Rock had become an industry (as hip hop has now) and lost its creativity. Punk was creative.’

As Croce wrote when Drastic premiered, ‘Classical values that were flayed alive, stayed alive.’ Time may have inevitably undermined this era-defining work’s shocking freshness, but it remains mighty lively. Armitage revived Drastic in 2009, tightening it up and underlining the innate rhythmic drive of the movement. In doing so she couldn’t help but notice how society itself has changed. ‘This generation isn’t as free as we were [back then], and that of course is due to changes in a world with much more economic pressure on it and reduced resources. We were free spirits with little understanding of how hard it is to survive and no thoughts of making a career. The new generation of dancers and musicians is more sober. Everyone is pretty wild in Drastic, and they have a great time, but [the work] is not as ironic [as it once was].’

Armitage recently revived another of her classics. The Watteau Duets (14 October at the Victoria and Albert Museum) was devised in 1985. Armitage herself originally danced in it, utilising both pointe shoes and high heels to jab, swivel and stamp the piece across. Staged as a series of majestic confrontations between a heterosexual couple, she calls it ‘a really liberated look at a woman’s sexuality.’ But, again, she notes how times have changed. ‘Today it’s hard to get a dancer to go far enough with it, and to dare to be raw enough.’

Still, Armitage is happy to have both of these ‘older’ dances out in front of the public once more. ‘Each of them works on many layers. They’re entertaining, aesthetically challenging and filled with exciting contradictions – hot emotion and cool technique, irony and sincerity, youthful rebellion and a love of tradition. They use dance to express contemporary culture, from sexual politics to the issue of how to mix high and low art forms – issues that artists are still dealing with today.’

In London, Drastic will be paired with two of the three sections that comprise one of Armitage’s newest dances. Two Theories (as it has been renamed) was inspired by The Elegant Universe, Brian Greene’s best-seller on the evolutionary conflicts of theoretical physics. Although Dance Umbrella won’t be importing Armitage’s kinetic take on Einstein’s theory of relativity, audiences will be able to dive into her interpretation of quantum mechanics and string theory. ‘I can’t explain these scientific theories,’ she says, ‘nor do I try in the ballet, but I have an appreciation for their poetry. By looking at them through the body abstract ideas take on human content, linking human rhythms and perception to the hidden forces that make up the universe.’

Armitage’s shape-shifting ensemble have been said to handle her writhing, undulant and volatile choreography – deliberately blurry at some points, and then extremely articulate – with great aplomb. ‘They’re virtuosos who are very fluid and free-spirited,’ she avows, ‘and each is a unique spice.’ As for the audience, the feeling she hopes to induce in us is the sort of ‘awed wonder’ that science itself can impart.

A self-described classicist, Armitage once categorised herself as ‘a marginal, intellectual sort of rebel. I’m not a mainstream kind of person.’ Rather than trash her artistic heritage, as she was once accused of doing, her underlying motive is ‘to warp and massage it and make it into something, image-wise, that’s very different than how people think it looks.’ She remains committed to making work ‘that communicates what it feels like to be alive. Theatre is a good form for describing politics; dance is a good form for erotic, existential and spiritual content.’ No surprise whatsoever then that it’s curiosity that keeps her going as an artist.

© Donald Hutera, 2011

See Armitage Gone! Dance at Southbank Centre’s Queen Elizabeth Hall as part of Dance Umbrella 2011 on 11 & 12 October. More info and tickets here.