“Be yourself, and others will find you”
“Be yourself, and others will find you”
During the festive season there’s a few things you can be sure of. John Lewis bringing you a heart-rending advert, parents searching for the latest must-have toys, shops seducing you with sequins making you buy an impractical party dress you’ll only wear once, while all your good taste disappears as soon as you pull on that novelty jumper with the flashing lights. And after a few drinks you’ll be misty-eyed, singing The Pogues’ Fairytale of New York, while hugging your pals. Yes, it’s the season to be silly.
But there is one reassuringly stylish event in the festive calendar, and it’s from Scottish Ballet, who inject some class into Christmas. Every year they pull out the stops to bring a sparkling and magical seasonal ballet to life on stage.
This year it’s the turn of one of our favourite rags-to-riches stories. Where the poor girl really does get it all, and there’s more sparkles than you can shake a fairy godmother wand at.
Cinderella is about to undergo her transformation and find her beau, assisted by a glass slipper and a little fairy magic.
But before the festive fun kicked off, the award winning company warmed up with their autumn season, and at a special bloggers’ preview event, I got behind the scenes at the Ballet’s headquarters located in Glasgow’s Tramway.
The autumn season was a double bill consisting of Elsa Canasta by Javier de Frutos and Motion of Displacement by Bryan Arias. An informal chat to the dancers revealed the challenges of working side by side on two very different ballets, each bringing a choreographer with an individual style and method. A tour of the costume department lead to the most important part of a dancer’s attire – their shoes.
As a joiner needs a screwdriver, a ballet dancer needs their shoes. They are their tools of their trade. A dancer can use up to three pairs of shoes per performance, and Scottish Ballet uses over 2,000 pairs of shows during each winter season. Each pair of shoes costs £40. Therefore the company spends more than £20,000 on shoes each winter. That’s enough to keep Carrie Bradshaw and her Sex & The City girlfriends in Manolo Blahnik’s for a long time.
Scottish Ballet have cleverly launched their own Cinderella Shoe Appeal, and it’s where you can get involved by contributing to the cost of a dancer’s shoes. See more about this on their website and see the film below.
Meanwhile, this production of Cinderella, created by Christopher Hampson for the Royal New Zealand Ballet in 2007, comes to Scotland for its European premiere.
The show opened at Edinburgh’s Festival Theatre on December 5th and remains there until the 31st. Then with a wave of a fairy godmother wand – it will cast its spell over Glasgow’s Theatre Royal in January before visiting Aberdeen and Inverness. For a list of dates and venues, see below and get a glimpse of the magic by having a peek at the official Scottish Ballet trailer.
You know something is good when you keep going back. I’ve seen the show Janis Joplin: Full Tilt, three times. Every time it’s been amazing, due to the stellar performance by Angie Darcy in the lead role. I can’t imagine anyone else depicting the singer’s triumphs and ultimately tragic end.
Janis’s story is told through a mixture of song and theatre bringing her character to life. We hear how she struggled to fit in in her native Texas where she was born in 1943. How she went to California to make music, where she partied hard, how she returned home but found the lure of music and the pull of California too strong and she returned in 1966. Peppered throughout the show are her famous hits including Piece of My Heart, which hit the number one spot, as well as the yearning Mercedes Benz and Kris Kristofferson’s gorgeous country ballad Me And Bobby Gee (a new and welcome addition for this updated version of the show).
Her larger than life character commands the stage where she is backed by an excellent supportive band. But for all the brash confidence, displays of flamboyance, and obvious talent, underneath is a vulnerable woman who harbours a need for love and acceptance.
We see her life sadly unravelling leading to her death, alone in a hotel room in 1970. She was 27.
The play is based on the singer’s own transcripts and as the lights go down, Angie Darcy remains silent, allowing a crackly recording of Janis’s voice to speak to us through the darkness.
The play was originally formed for Oran Mor’s A Play, A Pie and A Pint series, written by Peter Arnott and directed by Cora Bissett in association with Regular Music and supported by the National Theatre of Scotland. It has since gone on tour to win many deserved awards and critical acclaim.
You could go and see Nina Conti every night and be guaranteed of a different experience. It depends who’s in the crowd and Nina admits her audience are her show, but she is doing herself a disservice and she deserves credit for how clever she is.
Part of her act is dedicated to her alter ego – Monkey – a cheeky, naughty hand puppet, who has revived the forgotten act of ventriloquism. Who remembers the likes of Emu, Spit the Dog and Orville? They got the stuffing knocked out of them long ago and are now limply languishing in a puppet show in the sky. When ventriloquism is done well, it’s admirable and Nina has perfected the art. The test is when you actually start thinking Monkey is real – despite the fact you know he’s a furry sock with a squeezable face and a penchant for shouting the odd obscenity.
There’s one point during the show where Nina goes into a sleep and leaves the stage to Monkey to take over, rendering him speechless. It’s a strange and funny addition to the show, and the long protracted silence is eventually broken by the audience rousing Nina out of her slumber.
What about the audience? Her act depends largely on who turns up on the night, how willing they are to participate and how they behave on stage. It’s good to remember not to sit at the front, unless you have a bit of an exhibitionist streak and don’t mind the possibility of being dragged onto the stage and having a strange mask stuck on your face. What happens after that is anyone’s guess because Nina takes over the person’s persona by using the information she has gleaned from them. The results are hilarious. Some people become expressive in their movements when they are on the stage, while some others are more reserved.
Sometimes Nina has to control three audience members. She manages to keep a scenario going through conversation, by throwing the voices of three people, controlling their masks, while also using her own voice. It’s a tricky feat and requires a lot of quick thinking, dexterity and co-ordination. She makes it look seamless, but it’s totally unpredictable and you feel it could all go a bit wrong. She is however skilful in bringing the audience with her and her easy-going nature makes people relax. There also seems to be anonymity behind the mask. Perhaps it allows people to hide and feel like they are someone else.
What about the real Nina Conti? She spends a lot of time occupying the minds, personalities and voices of other people, so it’s interesting to try and figure out who she is. Judging by her show, she’s a fine comedian who doesn’t take herself too seriously. At the end of the evening she pulled on a bright yellow skintight Morph suit which was back to front and poked fun at herself. She’s clever, quick-witted, fast-talking and someone you could hang out with at the bar. She’s probably never alone though and it’s likely she’ll pull a few friends out of her handbag to join you.
It’s not often you get the chance to see a real Hollywood legend being interviewed in front of a live audience in Glasgow. The tickets were expensive, but highly sought after.
The audience sat quietly waiting for the Godfather to appear, and after a 20 minute delay – the air hung with anticipation and a slight nervousness. A film montage set the scene – the list of movies endless, and everyone a winner – from The Godfather, Serpico, Sea of Love, Scent of a Woman, Heat, Donnie Brasco, Carlito’s Way, and many more …
Al Pacino is 75 and wearing well. He counts Johnny Depp as a good friend and looking at him, you imagine he adopts the quirky younger actor’s dress sense, as the large screen behind him allows glimpses of his hands which are adorned with clunky rings.
And as Pacino wandered on stage, he introduced Scottish broadcaster and music journalist Billy Sloan, who had the squeaky bum job of interviewing the Godfather …
We went back to Pacino’s upbringing in the Bronx where he would reenact various movie roles for two aunts, one of whom was deaf. We heard how Francis Ford Coppola was adamant that the then young unknown Pacino would star as Michael Corleone in 1972’s smash hit film The Godfather, much to the bewilderment and annoyance of Warner Brothers. Pacino himself wanted fired from the movie because he wasn’t enjoying filming and the feeling of not being wanted. However, it turned out that Pacino’s portrayal of Corleone showed a canny character interpretation which he had taken from the book by Mario Puzo on which the film was based. The producers were finally convinced after they saw him act out the restaurant scene when Corleone kills Virgil Sollozzo and Captain McCluskey in cold blood.
There was a lot of good-natured and impromptu humor too, as Billy Sloan set up the questions and allowed Pacino to go full flow from one engaging story to another, occasionally gently reining him in and prompting him in another direction. And Pacino proved an engaging and entertaining story teller. There was the first meeting with his idol Marlon Brando, who had a disconcerting way of eating chicken with his fingers while simultaneously chomping and chatting, with hilariously messy consequences.
Then there was the time Pacino left the studio while filming Serpico, and hadn’t quite left his character behind, because he tried to pull another car over for creating too much pollution.
He said he was still waiting for Harrison Ford to thank him for his career because Pacino turned down Star Wars. And who does the best Al Pacino impression? Kevin Spacey does a good one but according to Pacino, it’s his pal Johnny Depp.
The audience questions were at times cringe-worthy but when asked what young actors would still be around and being afforded the same adulation – he singled out a few – namely Johnny Depp and Leonardo di Caprio, although he admitted it could be argued that they are not really “youngsters”.
From gangsters, to cops and the romance of Frankie and Johnny to the role of Lieutenant Colonel Frank Slade in Scent of a Woman, which won him the long-awaited Oscar, he rightly has legendary status.
Movies aside, he makes no secret of his love for theatre and writers such as Shakespeare and Oscar Wilde. And it was good to see an acting legend displaying his craft. Pacino read a section of the Mamet stage play American Buffalo, which he performed in London in 1984. Even better was his recital of The Ballad of Reading Gaol by Oscar Wilde.
Bringing us up to date, he also discussed movie Danny Collins which was released around the time of his tour, where he plays an ageing rock star.
Scottish Ballet’s latest production is an interesting mix of two texts brought to life with stunning results.
Ten Poems (2009)
A chance find by choreographer Christopher Bruce led to this ballet production. He found a CD of Richard Burton reading Dylan Thomas’s Ten Poems in his local music shop. He then created this piece in 2009 for German company Ballet Kiel. It has since been revived for this UK premiere for Scottish Ballet.
There is no music during this production, instead the words become the melody. The Ten Poems of Dylan Thomas have an easy rhythm, enhanced further when read by the distinctive voice of Burton. Thomas’s observations about life include the themes of lost innocence, nostalgia and death. We see teenagers lying back enjoying summer, young lives going to war, a hunchback who forms a relationship with an otherworldly looking woman. The dancers fuse and melt easily into each other. The grief of Do Not Go Gentle Into That Goodnight and the imagery of And Death Shall Have No Dominion is beautifully expressed by the five male dancers who become shadowy silhouettes against a luminous backdrop.
Based on Arthur Miller’s 1953 play, this chilling tale about the Salem witch trials gets its world premiere. Brooklyn-based choreographer Helen Pickett teases out the themes of suspicion, fear and ignorance. Thankfully witch trials are a thing of the past, but the themes of the play transcend and can be seen operating in other areas of today’s modern world. But for the purpose of this ballet, the themes are based around events surrounding the Salem witch-hunt of 1692, and this is a well known chilling tale of innocent people destroyed by malicious rumours.
The main antagonist of the story is a young girl, Abigail, who has an affair with John Proctor, and his wife, Elizabeth, discovers the affair.
There’s a lot of story to tell in this 40 minute ballet and the opening scene displays a gamut of people. Set in a court room, the dancers before you have to convey who they are, their relationships and how they fit into the story, almost immediately.
This is a brave production with a few surprises. One arresting element is the music. Pickett’s acting background sees her leaning towards the cinematic and the music of Bernard Hermann, which he composed for Psycho and The Devil and Daniel Webster. The score evokes a chilling horror movie. But it’s the inclusion of a dance/techno track by UK producer Jon Hopkins at a pivotal point in the play that catches your breath. It’s the sinister meeting in the woods, where things get out of hand and then accusations of witchcraft abound. The stage morphs into a rave scene, the dancing is wild, demonic, angular and spiky. The dance is disjointed and without any harmony. It’s visually stunning and exhilarating.
And if you don’t know the play, the simple monotonous, continually repeated choreographed hand movements depicting hanging leave you in no doubt of the play’s tragic ending.
Eden Court, Inverness, 30 September until 1 October
Festival Theatre, Edinburgh, 3 to 4 October
His Majesty’s Theatre, Aberdeen, 7 to 8 October
Scottish Ballet eat, breathe and sleep whatever production they happen to be working on. And when Hansel & Gretel was finally unwrapped for Christmas 2013, the magical posters, videos and photographs had already been enticing us for months before the big reveal.
So while I was sitting having afternoon tea at Glasgow’s Blythswood Square Hotel at a specially arranged Scottish Ballet bloggers event and having a quick read through their souvenir brochure – it was no surprise to read the words of production designer Gary Harris, who said :
“It’s something I love doing so it’s not like working. It goes right through your life – it’s everything and makes me realise I’m so lucky to do what I do”.
It was also no surprise to find myself sipping a delicious Woodcutter’s Wife Cocktail while munching on gingerbread men and carrot cake with popping candy – all created with Hansel & Gretel in mind.
It was a lovely way to spend a wet Saturday afternoon in Glasgow just before Christmas. Blythswood Square became the Clubhouse for The Royal Scottish Automobile Club (RSAC) from 1910. Now a hotel and spa, it’s a decadent escape from the busy city centre with its throng of shoppers.
Unlike some afternoon teas, this was a substantial one. There was plenty sandwiches, mini scones, little pink macaroons and lots of sweet treats to accompany your tea or coffee.
And sometimes you just have to have a gin in the afternoon, especially if it’s dressed up as a Woodcutter’s Wife Cocktail. This concoction was made up of Martin Miller’s Gin with Amaro Nonino, fresh lemon juice, lemon curd and ginger syrup, candied peach puree and a splash of egg white. Delicious.
The hotel is also home to a gorgeous spa with a vast array of treatments as well as a thermal experience. Newly introduced to the hotel is a range of products from the Isle of Lewis called Ishga – a name derived from the Gaelic word for water.
To make us feel really pampered some of the therapists were around to give us a hand and arm massage
We also saw some video clips showing little snippets of what it takes to breathe life into a ballet production.
Then it was time for a chat with some of the ballet dancers. Christopher Harrison and Constance Devernay joined us, alongside Scottish Ballet’s Marketing & Communications Editor, Christina Riley for a Q&A session. Here Constance talks about how to get into the mindset of playing a child.
With our appetites well and truly whetted, it was time to go down to the imaginary woods, and to Glasgow’s Theatre Royal to see the performance. Christopher Hampson has been Scottish Ballet’s artistic director since 2012 and this is his first full-length production for the company. It lived up to its expectations. We were met with a backdrop to the stage that was reminiscent of the works of Tim Burton.
This version of the Brothers Grimm’s famous story comes with the characteristic Scottish Ballet twists. While there’s lots of fun and good doses of darkness, there’s no wicked stepmother. Hampson felt that evil stepmothers are not relevant to today’s world. In her place we have a school teacher who becomes a witch and everything is set in a nameless 50s/60s town. The parents are flawed but adorable and the interplay between them is very funny as they carry out rag-taggle scenes of smoking, drinking and lying on the sofa watching telly. It’s all very playful and realistic.
Meanwhile with their parents attentions diverted elsewhere, the kids are getting up to mischief. They jump over the kitchen table and chairs, clamber around and fight over toys. They are utterly convincing as children.
The witch is a strong female role and after seeing Eve Mutso’s portrayal of Blanche in A Streetcar Named Desire, Christopher Hampson knew she was perfect. The witch goes through three incarnations, from gawky, nerdy teacher to the beautiful and terrifying enchantress who eventually unravels to become an old knife-wielding hag. The first transformation is magical, making use of a massive flowing cape, which must give the dancers some difficulty trying to avoid any tangling mishaps.
The Sandman is an intriguing shadowy figure and it would have been good to see a little more of him on stage. The delightful dew drop fairies are as pretty as a fresh flurry of snowflakes floating down from a frosty blue sky.
The costumes are beautifully designed. The parents reappear to the children in a dream while they are lost in the woods. And unlike their usual down-at-heel selves, they have been transformed into movie stars from a golden era. The dress which the mother wears was modelled on a typical Grace Kelly look and was stunning.
Designer Gary Harris has crafted a truly enchanting and breathtaking set which includes a wonderful opening to Act II complete with glowing coloured lollipops brightening the darkened woods. It’s a feast for the eyes. The spectacular setting combined with the clever lighting gives a 3D effect and you feel as if you could wander onto the stage and disappear.
The instrumental score comes from Engelbert Humperdinck’s 1893 opera. Using this original score some music was created specially for this production by principal conductor Richard Honner and digital audio editor Brian Prentice. Listen to an excerpt on the Scottish Ballet Website
As well as the darkness, there’s a lot of humour. Constance Devernay mentioned a food fight and it all gets messy towards the end in a macabre room filled with mayhem.
Visually stunning, beautifully and lovingly crafted – it’s easy to see how Scottish Ballet can get totally wrapped up in their work.
There’s still time to see it. It’s touring and has just started a four day stop-over in Edinburgh. For details see below or Scottish Ballet Website
8 – 11 January 2014
Box Office 0131 529 6000
15 – 18 January 2014
His Majesty’s Theatre
Box Office 01224 641122
22 – 25 January 2014
Box Office 01463 234 234
29 January – 1 February 2014
Box Office 08448 11 21 21
5 – 8 February 2014
Grand Opera House
Box Office 028 9024 1919