Monthly Archives: January 2013

Scottish Ballet Rehearsals for The Nutcracker – January 2013

Scottish Ballet The Nutcracker

Scottish Ballet
The Nutcracker

Scottish Ballet’s production of The Nutcracker has just finished its run in Glasgow and is going on tour.

Touring for Scottish Ballet is big business. It’s a massive task transporting a whole show around the country, because everything goes – lock, stock and barrel. From the lights, costumes, stage sets, props, right down to ballet shoes, pairs of tights and spare thread for any emergency repairs.

Rose

Rose Flower Costume

Oh, and dancers too, but they’ve got preparation to do. Every stage is a different size and shape. It’s important when you are dancer to know your space. Get it wrong and the results can be catastrophic. On stage, it all looks seamless, effortless, but there’s been hours upon hours of preparation and training. Everything has to be precise, measured and calculated but it also has to look natural and flowing.

Ballet Dancers

Ballet Dancers

Scottish Ballet’s Nutcracker is showing at Edinburgh from January 8 – 12th, thereafter moving on to Aberdeen, Inverness, Belfast and Newcastle.

Meanwhile the dancers are getting the feel for the dimensions of the Capital city’s Festival Theatre where the stage is large. The floor in Scottish Ballet’s studio at the Tramway in Glasgow has been marked out to reflect its size and some of us bloggers and social media people are lucky to have been invited by the company to watch a sequence.   It’s a Saturday morning, the studio is busy. Lots of dancers line the perimeter of the studio, which is always warm to ensure the dancers’ muscles don’t get cold. Dancers are sitting, lying down, waiting, chatting, some of them are limbering up and stretching, while some just simply move and swirl around the room.

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Scottish Ballet Dancers

Scottish Ballet Dancers at Rehearsals

We see rehearsals for the waltz of the flowers. It’s continual repetition with some pointers and tweaks from the instructor. Seeing the dancers in this setting gives you a different perspective. They are stripped back, wearing simple training gear, there’s no props, no make-up, nothing fancy, no carefully placed lighting to accentuate a foot or an ankle but somehow the effect is even more effective. And when you see the dancers this close you really appreciate how hard they work and train. Every muscle is honed and stretched. It’s a synthesis of grace, beauty, lightness, strength, determination and focus.

The Nutcracker Rehearsals

The Nutcracker Rehearsals

Scottish Ballet The Nutcracker

Scottish Ballet
The Nutcracker

Brenda Lee Grech

During a discussion we hear about the difference costumes, props tutus and even toes being en pointe can make to the dimensions of a dancer, and something a dance partner has to take into consideration during lifts.

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We also talk afterwards with principal dancers Sophie Martin and Tama Barry. We hear about their life as a dancer and it’s an interesting insight.

Sophie Martin – Scottish Ballet

Tama Barry Scottish Ballet

Tama Barry
Scottish Ballet

They both insist they are just “normal” people who meet friends and go for pizza but also remind us that they have been training for this all their lives. A ballet dancer has probably been dancing since they were around five years old and often most come to professional dancing through ballet school, leaving home from around age 13 to study full time. So partying is off limits when a production is on. Once that show finishes however, the story may be different.

They also discuss the perils of props. Tama tells that at one point he almost got stuck inside his jacket during a Nutcracker scene where it was supposed to come off quickly and it didn’t. Sometimes props fall, something is lying on stage and the dancers can’t see it because the floor is covered in smoke.

And at all times, no matter what happens, they keep the show going in a slick professional manner. Thankfully any mishaps are few and far between and dealt with so professionally that the audience are oblivious.

But sometimes the audience themselves can be a distraction. It can be difficult to see much from the stage but Tama told us about an instance when someone near the front of a crowd was wearing a visibility jacket, which they could see shining. It was making them wonder if anything had happened in the audience.

We learned about the training the dancers do and sometimes the more unusual methods of learning new skills. For instance for one show, some of the girls got some pole-dancing lessons.

In the Scottish Ballet’s production of Tennessee Williams’ A Streetcar Named Desire, which premiered last year, the dancers had extra acting training.

Tama spoke about the darkness of the characters he sometimes plays and claimed they are more fun. They are often easier because they are far removed from his own character and there’s lots of scope to really expand into the role.

Sometimes dancers have to get in character as children and Sophie discussed the difficulties of trying to reflect this through dance and expressions. Some of the more obvious emotions like happiness or anger are easy to portray but the more subtle emotions and characteristics of a child – like innocence and naivety are more of a challenge.

There’s aways a magical air around Scottish Ballet and there’s plenty magic in The Nutcracker. It’s all there, from an enchanted dolls’ house, a handsome prince, dancing flowers, snowflakes, an evil governness and plenty other scary characters too.

Dates 2013:

Jan 8 – 12, Edinburgh Festival Theatre

Jan 16 – 19, His Majesty’s Theatre, Aberdeen

Jan 23 – 26, Eden Court, Inverness

Jan 30 – Feb 2, Grand Opera House, Belfast

Feb 6 – 9, Theatre Royal, Newcastle

See: Scottish Ballet Website

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Serious Drugs – Duglas And The Music Of The BMX Bandits

What does it mean to be a BMX Bandit?

Serious Drugs poster

Serious Drugs poster

If you listen to American filmmaker / record producer Kim Fowley:

It means a nuclear submarine floating through chocolate syrup skies of spinach, raining raisins on a Chihuahua covered infinity of plaid waistcoats, with sunglasses and slow motion. It sort of means, pathos equals suburban integrity of loneliness punctuated by really nice melodies.’

While band member Sean Dickson said:

“It’s like being wrapped in your favorite chocolate bar with everybody you love all around you hugging you at the same time.”

Meanwhile Creation Records co-founder Alan McGee has a more down to earth answer in his description of the band when he said:

“I always thought it was a joke group but if it was, it was a very good joke.”

Or how about the accolade from Nirvana’s Kurt Cobain? In the early 1990s he said:

’If I could be in any other band, it would be BMX Bandits.’

Jim Burns, the filmmaker behind Serious Drugs – Duglas And The Music Of BMX Bandits started his project with this question in mind.

Film-maker Jim Burns

Film-maker Jim Burns
Picture Credit: Spence Photography

Inspired by his love for the band and in particular their album My Chain, which he credits with helping him through a period of depression, he wanted to make a film about the Bandits and their founder Duglas T Stewart.

Duglas T Stewart

Duglas T Stewart

Duglas agreed to the project and a four year journey began. It was quite an undertaking for Jim, who works for a software engineering company, because he had never made a film before. Duglas however had faith and put his trust in Jim. So much so, he didn’t see or vet any footage. The first time Duglas saw any filming was at the movie’s world premiere, screened at the Glasgow Film Theatre in December 2011.

The film is an amalgamation of interviews, new and old footage, photos and musical segments pieced together and taken right up to the current day where the band are in the production of their album BMX Bandits In Space, released last year.

BMX Bandits In Space

BMX Bandits In Space

This album, their 16th release, reunites Duglas with his former Bandits Jim McCulloch, Norman Blake and Sean Dickson. It’s the first time he has written with Dickson and McCulloch in over 20 years.Given the sprawling history of this band, who celebrated their 25th Anniversary in 2011, it’s quite a task to squeeze into a documentary. A good indication is the drawing, like a family tree, that Duglas presents during the film. It’s a reminder of the members who passed through bandit country and the trails of bands and connections from Soup Dragons, The Vaselines, Teenage Fanclub, The Pearlfishers, Superstar and many others.

BMX Bandits Family Tree

BMX Bandits’ Family Tree

Latterly the addition of Rachel Allison on vocals and multi-instrumentalist David Scott has given the band another dimension and keeps them evolving.

There’s been a constant ebb and flow of people, leaving, coming back, moving on, and coming back again. It feels like one big happy family. It would probably take something pretty serious to be ex-communicated.

During the film Norman Blake, who features extensively, likened being a BMX Bandit to being an Army Reserve, “you could get called up any time.”

We go back to the birth of the Bandits and see footage of the band playing early gigs in Bellshill’s Hattonrigg Hotel, which was demolished in the early 90s.We see a young Duglas cutting about his native Bellshill with an angular blonde wedge haircut reminiscent of ABC’s Martin Fry, wearing sharp suits, ties, multi colours and collecting Barbies and dolls houses. In the small Lanarkshire mining town, famous for churning out gruff straight-talking men like football legend Sir Matt Busby, Duglas stood out. But he made his own unique impact and was fondly regarded. A master of impersonations, particularly Frank Spencer, we see Duglas visiting his old Bellshill school.

Early BMX Bandits in 1987.L-R Norman Blake, Francis Macdonald, Billy Woods, Duglas T Stewart, Jim McCulloch, Joe McAlinden

Early BMX Bandits in 1987.
L-R Norman Blake, Francis Macdonald, Billy Woods, Duglas T Stewart, Jim McCulloch, Joe McAlinden

During the film it was touching to meet Duglas’s mum sitting in the kitchen of her house. Possibly like most other mums with a creative child under their roof, she was quite non-plussed and fairly oblivious to her son’s burgeoning career.

The film was shown at the Scottish Mental Health Arts And Film Festival in October 2012 at the Edinburgh Filmhouse. At a question and answer session afterwards Duglas revealed that his mum knew he had finally made it when he appeared in the local paper. He made it into The Bellshill Speaker’s list of 100 influential people from Bellshill – at number 51. This was an astonishing revelation which begged the question of who were the other people who made up this list of 100?

The film title comes after a BMX Bandits song. Duglas explained at one point he had been taking medication for depression and he had a new girlfriend at the time who said, “You don’t need these any more, you have me.”  After while the girlfriend said “This isn’t working, you better get some serious drugs.”

This conversation inspired the lyrics “I said I don’t think I can take it much longer, she said ‘maybe your tablet should be stronger, get some serious drugs’, I need some serious love.”

This song which appeared on the 2006 Bandit album My Chain, was written during a difficult time in Duglas’s life, and proved to be a salvation for Jim. He said he felt this was a guy who knew what it felt like to be lonely.

The film is a reflective look back through time, there’s entertaining footage, lively interviews with Creation co-founder Alan McGee, Kim Fowley, band members, it’s a nostalgic slice of Scotland’s musical culture from the 1980s, when albums were made in bedrooms with borrowed gear and lots of mates. But what came through in the question and answer session with Jim and Duglas, was their special relationship, formed with a mutual respect and trust, and a sense that they had both helped each other in some way. It felt as much a personal journey for Jim, as it was for Duglas.

While Jim credits the Bandits music with helping him through a dark period in his life, Duglas suffered a similar darkness which surfaced during filming. Jim was faced with an unexpected dilemma. He sensitively chose not to film and decided they would deal with this period at a later stage when Duglas felt better. And as the darkness descended, the Bandit family gathered around Duglas to help him, like “angels” arriving. They instinctively knew something was seriously wrong.

Duglas Stewart & Norman Blake

Duglas Stewart & Norman Blake

Duglas recovered. The film continued and we were brought up to date with The Bandits celebrating their 25th anniversary, gigging and working on their latest album BMX Bandits In Space. It’s been a journey.

It also felt like the realization of a dream for Jim Burns, a first time film-maker with a vision. He made the film on a shoestring, borrowing and acquiring gear whenever he could and often with his family pitching in to help out.

Before any of this happened he was sitting in the Glasgow Film Theatre one night with his family and whispered to them something along the lines of “Wouldn’t it be great to make a film and have a premiere in here?” The seed was sown. He had never made a film before but somehow managed to make his dream become a reality.

The film is now available on DVD. For details see: Serious Drugs DVD Ordering

There’s also a special edition available with lots of extras. See also: Serious Drugs – A Film About The BMX Bandits Facebook Page

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Filed under Films, Glasgow Film Theatre, Music