The Curious Start of Something New

dsc00164This is the start of brand new phase for The Curious Dance Company. Our very first Curious Dance classes started today.

We now have two Acro Dance classes and a Dance for Performance class to complement our performance company. This is such an exciting development for us as we now offer a broad dance experience all under our Curious umbrella.

The Dance for Performance class is a curious mix of styles, from contemporary to musical theatre, designed to bring the very best out of each student whilst challenging them to develop a strong technical foundation. DSC00165.JPGAll delivered with an energetic and driven style that is the hallmark of Megan Alder-Cox’s teaching. Megan has an impressive talent for developing dancers’ technical and performance abilities in a short amount of time – she really knows how to get results.

The Acro class was all about core fitness and the initial assessment of the pupils’ abilities. Acro puts a demand on the body beyond most dance styles and requires the development of strength, flexibility and coordination (especially whilst upside down in the air) to a high degree. This requires a precision in the delivery to ensure clear understanding and safely at all times. Megan is an excellent Acro teacher with full qualifications and an ability to make the tough feel fun.

Bitten By The Festival Bug

Our first Curious outing was a fantastic experience. This was an opportunity to test the water and find out what competitive festivals are about and learn what we need to do as a company to grow and develop.

I am hugely proud of all our dancers; they worked so hard and made a real impression on the festival organisers. I received a message last night from the one organiser – ‘I just wanted to say what a pleasure your groups were. Always very polite…their behaviour was commendable’. Can’t ask for more than that!

The standard of the groups in the festival were incredibly high, many of the dancers had a very strong technical ability and a real commitment in performance. The choreographies varied but many were cleverly inventive and performed with a precision that comes from many hours of rehearsal. Most of the pieces had been performed at festivals over a few year and so were refined and polished. It was great to watch pieces of this calibre and there were many inspiring moments to take away.

The judge of the festival was Geoff Lucas and he was very impressive. He gave considered comments that were always constructive and accurate. In his introduction speech for our group section he talked about looking for work that was original in ideas, dared to take risks, used the music to inform the choreography and utilised a range of levels and dynamics. These are all elements that we have discussed in the creating of our first pieces so it was very reassuring to know we are thinking along the right lines. What our pieces lacked were the hours of rehearsal and the experience of many performances – all that will come with time and continued hard work. We also know we need to extend our pieces as they were clearly shorter than any other piece (although short pieces can be the preference at some festivals).

This festival was a hugely valuable learning experience and we are excited and inspired to return to the studio to strengthen our first two pieces and create new work. We are going to work on a piece with the whole company that will be shown a our Christmas sharing and entered for both Cumbria and Lancashire festivals and we have ideas bubbling away for further smaller group pieces.

We now have the festival bug and will continue to seek out other festivals that we can enter. A big thank you to Huddersfield Stage Dance Festival – we were made to feel very welcome and supported and we will definitely be back next year as a much more experienced company.

A Curious excursion (with sneak peek videos)

As this blog is posted we will be preparing to travel down to Huddersfield for our first performances. The whole company have worked incredibly hard to get our two pieces performance ready.
In the previous rehearsal Megan Alder-Cox took on the role of rehearsal director with Curiosus’ Alice Through the Looking-glass themed piece (choreographed by J Winstanley) and this week it was the turn of Curiosum’s Battle Cry piece to receive the Megan treatment. With forensic like detail the pieces were dissected and reconstructed with each movement being clarified, every formation aligned and a ruthless rehearsal of the unison sections that had begun to drift into a form of cannon.

This performance experience is a real unknown for all of us. Over the years The Curious Dance Company have built a solid reputation for creating ambitious works of innovative choreography for theatre audiences. But competitions are different, there is a specific criteria that the dance work is judged against. We set out to make two pieces that were choreographically impressive, showcased our fantastic performers and were rehearsed to performance standard. This is what we have achieved and we are very proud of our two pieces – every single dancer has given their all and we have we are all excited to be a part of the Huddersfield Stage Dance Festival.

There is always a curiosity about how well we may do in the competition but ultimately this experience is about sharing what Curious means to us with a new audience. Whatever happens we will have a great time and continue to grow as a company.

Curiouser and Curiouser

A dictionary definition of curious is:

1: having a desire to learn or know more
2: strange, unusual or unexpected

This is a good starting point to understanding what The Curious Dance Company is about.

Our mission statement reads:

The Curious Dance Company strive to inspire, challenge and develop all
our dancers to be the best performers they can be. We do this through
being the dance company that; works the hardest; enjoys the most;
innovates with creativity; applauds the loudest, loves to dance and is
curious in all we do.

It has been a long and complex journey over many years to take an after
sdsc00026chool dance club through to being a company that creates full length
contemporary ballets and runs two performance groups; creating work
specifically for festivals.

The Curious Dance Company is now quite complex in structure and works
like this:

The Curious Dance company is a broad title for all we do; The Curious Dance Studios is what we call our festival focused groups and each group also has a name – Curiosus and Curiosum (both Latin for curious). Confusing? Yes it is but that’s ok. What is clear is the quality of work we create is outstanding and the quality of dancers that are choosing to be Curiousdsc00030 is humbling. I am very excited about this next phase of our Curious journey.

dsc00039

Seeing our Curious dancers being challenged in a contemporary class,
exploring new ideas in an improvisation session and beginning learning the
choreography for their first pieces was truly amazing. We have plenty of
hard work ahead of us but the journey promises to be a curious one.

What to expect at the Curious Audition

Auditions are always scary – often because it is unknown what will be expected of you. Do you need to prepare anything? Is there anything you should be rehearsing or practicing?

If you are planning on auditioning for the brand new Curious performance groups then hopefully we can ease some nerves by explaining what you will be doing in the audition.

So what will we do?

Firstly

There will be a warm up class. Nothing too difficult just some dance technique exercises you may already be familiar with. This will prepare you for the audition both physically and mentally. This is your time to ease into the audition process so try and relax and enjoy the class. Many of you will have done a lot of dance classes before so this will be familiar ground.

Secondly

You will be taught a movement sequence to a piece of music. This will be to see how well you pick up and perform movement material. Don’t worry, this won’t be too difficult – we are not trying to catch you out – we just want to challenge you a little. You will not be performing these just yet.

And finally

In small groups you will add some more movement onto the sequence. You will use the same music and can put any move in you like. This is about your creativity and your ability to perform as a group.

And that’s it!

So nothing to prepare, you can stick with your friends and you get to throw your own moves! You will NOT be asked to perform on your own as this is an audition for a performance group. There will be a panel of Curious staff who may write some notes to help them make their choices but ultimately they will be there to enjoy the dancing… and so should you.

When will you find out?

We will aim to make the decision of who is in the company as soon as possible – maybe even for the next day. But just to be sure we will have the final list ready for Monday September 12th. We will put the list up at QES and on this website. If you are not successful this time around – there is always next year.

We hope to see you at the audition on the 8th September 2016 at 3.30pm in the Harlequin Theatre.

 

Article about the making of Nutcracker 2013 (Curious’ first full length show)

Creating a full length school ballet

Jasper Marriott Head of Dance at Queen Elizabeth School. Cumbria.

In December 2011 at Queen Elizabeth School in Cumbria we staged a hugely ambitious and very successful original version of the ballet The Nutcracker. We received incredibly positive feedback, interest from the press and even had a Department for Education spokesperson say: “Teachers and pupils should be immensely proud of going beyond the realms of a ‘normal’ school production. We very much hope this trend will continue in the school and will inspire other schools as well.”

We are now embarking on our second full length ballet, an original take on Through The Looking Glass and What Alice Found There by Lewis Carroll. This time with an original score and support from the internationally renown theatre company Imitating the Dog. Our intention with this new production is to take it on a mini tour in order to reach a wider audience.

The Nutcracker

The idea for a major school ballet started with a suggestion to have the theme of The Nutcracker for our annual dance showcase. This idea became more and more ambitious until it was decided that we would create our own version of the complete ballet and present it in the slot usually designated for our main school production, which is traditionally a musical. This enabled us to have a production budget and the time and expertise of other departments to help realise the production.

The Nutcracker seemed a perfect choice for our first full scale dance production for two reasons; firstly we study Matthew Bourne’s fantastic version at GCSE and A level and secondly it is the most popular ballet, especially around Christmas, so our intended audience would be at least familiar with the name The Nutcracker if not also aware of the story. This, we felt, was important for generating interest in the production and ultimately attracting healthy audience numbers (something, we were to discover, was not an issue we should have been concerned about).

When we first auditioned for the Nutcracker we were hoping for maybe 40 interested pupils with the intention of selecting 20 strong dancers to be in the production. We seriously underestimated the interest and were blown away when 90+ dancers came to the audition. I revised my plan based on the overwhelming interest and decided that any dancers with a technical and performance ability strong enough to be in the ballet would be given a role. At the end of the audition we had a list of 55 pupils. So this became our cast for The Nutcracker. We also had an orchestra of 30+ talented pupils who were about to face their greatest challenge to date, playing Tchaikovsky’s notoriously complex score. Involving this many students was hugely beneficial and something we intend to repeat in our next production.

The Story

For our production of The Nutcracker the story was rewritten giving it a new context, a new set of characters and theme, that of a child’s resilience in a time of war. The music was also edited and reordered to fit our story. This blatantly liberal use of artistic license reflects the influence of Matthew Bourne on our production. Although our version of the ballet is very different from Bourne’s Nutcracker we paid tribute to his influence through the movement qualities of our nurses (their characters having similarities to his marshmallows).

Traditionally the story of The Nutcracker is set in a wealthy family home at a Christmas party. I knew I wanted to turn this on its head and make the child at the centre of the story homeless and helpless, having the story be one of her journey to recovery.

We set our Nutcracker in a post conflict war-torn landscape with Clara being a lost child who is taken pity on by a kind hearted soldier giving her a doll from a fallen aid package and with it a spark of hope. She falls asleep and the doll and her kind soldier merge to become her hero, the Nutcracker, other characters we have met also enter her dream in different forms.

The Nutcracker then saves Clara from a nightmarish attack by rat-like soldiers whisking her away through a snowy forest to an imagined perfect world with smiling faces and dancing white picket fences.

Here she meets the Sugar Plum Fairy, a powerful temptress who welcomes them both to her palace, entertains them but eventually separates them forcing the Nutcracker to become a part of her own army. He becomes aware that the only way to save Clara is to accept his fate and abandon her.

Clara wakes, back in the desolate landscape she dreamed she had escaped from, but now with a new inner sense of resolve and determination, a sense of hope.

The Process

Before we auditioned for the Ballet I needed to know I had commitment from male dancers, especially for the lead roles. I was double casting the lead roles so needed two very able Nutcrackers. Once we had the lead boys on board and had auditioned all the other dancers I assign roles.

I had three groups of character; Red Cross Nurses (the head nurse would morph into The Sugar Plum Fairy in Clara’s dream), UN Soldiers (including the Nutcracker soldier) and the lost children (including Clara). I then had a Corps de Ballet who danced as part of the larger scenes; the Snowflake scene and the Perfect World. As well as my boys dance group who became the Rat Army.

Each scene was written out long before I had the first rehearsal with the dancers. I listened to the music, relentlessly scribbling the stage action in notebooks, describing the story with exact timings. But I created very little movement material before meeting the dancers. The choreography was developed in the studio and much of the movement came from the dancers themselves. This was a long and arduous process in which we pushed to create one to two minutes of dance every hour. Jan Winstanley (our other dance teacher) and I would often rehearsing across two spaces, working on two scenes simultaneously, forever conscious that we would need to be finished three or four weeks before the performances in order to rehearse with the orchestra.

The Challenges

Many of the challenges with this production were the same as the challenges faced on any school musical production; sourcing props and costume, rehearsing with the orchestra, managing a large amount of pupils and time constraints. These are element that we are use to, but there were also many challenges that were unique to a large scale dance productions.

Firstly there is no school version of Tchaikovsky’s score and it is not an easy score for any orchestra to tackle. Tchaikovsky writes sweeping melodies that are familiar if not famous but has very fiddly and fast counter parts, often written high up on the violins which make playing them a technical challenge. Our Head of Music, Jen Hartley, re-scored and arranged the music for our orchestra but even so they were against the clock learning whole pieces in one session with barely little time to rehears.

There were also surprises when the dancers first met with the Orchestra. Many instruments were different in our school arrangement, especially in the brass section, and tempos varied greatly from the Berliner Philharmonic Orchestra’s version we had rehearsed to. But the excitement and energy from the pupils about bring the dance and live music together smoothed over any initial panic the conducted (Gareth Leather) and I experienced.

I was also very aware that I wanted the ballet to be story driven and very accessible to non dance audiences. This meant the dancers needed to act, and not in the traditional over the top ballet mime way, but with a more naturalistic style. I worked closely with the Head of Drama Jason Brown and our Head of Theatre Arts Lee Fleming to bring each character alive and keep the story at the forefront of each scene. We also employed the technique of projecting graphic novel style artwork with snippets of narrative text. It worked and many of comments we received pertained to grandparents being dragged reluctantly to a ‘grand daughter’s dance show’ only to find themselves applauding with tears in their eyes at having been moved by the story.

One major technical challenge came with my idea of having the aid package being delivered on stage by an actual parachute dropping from the sky. After many failed attempts it finally hung precariously from the ceiling, with only a week to go before the first performance, ready to be released by a discrete length of fishing wire. We were told at this point ‘if this doesn’t work, your not having it!’ It worked like a dream and we all cheered with nervous release.

Sell out

Tickets went on sale for the run of five performances two weeks before the opening night. The Friday and Saturday night performances sold out in 24 hours and the rest went in the following couple of days. And still people were phoning for tickets. The demand was so great we felt compelled to put on an extra performances.

We also had a performance just for our year 7 pupils. They sat in rapture for the entire show and gave an honest standing ovation at the end. This was real proof to us that we had achieved our aim of creating an accessible and enjoyable dance production.

So what’s next?

Or next project, Alice, is now underway and aims to be even more ambitious, building on the success of Nutcracker. The music is being written whilst I am developing my interpretation of the book.

Lewis Carroll’s sequel to Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland seems a perfect sequel to our Nutcracker. It enables us to present familiar characters (many characters appear in both books) whilst also adding our own twists and turns to help tell a memorable story through dance.

We will be working with Imitating The Dog theatre company to create a tour-able construction of a ‘theatre within a theatre’ as well as some sophisticated multimedia elements they are renown for in their own shows. This is a very exciting time for dance within QES and I feel very privileged to be able to attempt such ambitious projects with very talented pupils and support from the entire school. Long may it continue.

Alice will be performed in December 2013.

Auditions 8th September 2016

We are very pleased to announce the creation of two brand new performance groups under the umbrella of The Curious Dance Company. These performance groups will create original dance works for competitive and non-competitive dance festivals. The aim is to create highly innovative and polished performance pieces and produce confident and skilled performers.

There will be a fee for membership into the companies which will cover festival entry fees, guest teachers, masterclasses and costumes.

Auditions for the company will be held on 8th September 2016 in the Harlequin 3.30 – 6pm.

For letters providing all the details please see a member of the Theatre Arts Dept.

Fallen at the Dukes

What a pleasure it was to hang out at the Dukes Theatre Lancaster for a couple days and perform Fallen. Fallen was an original vampire ballet – a hugely ambitious project – with an amazing cast of youth performers and original music score. We were hugely proud of the show and the feedback from our audiences were overwhelmingly positive; ‘It is so professional’ was a common comment. We certainly put the work in to achieve a very high quality performance.