As it is World Book Day, here is a book I love. ‘Boy in a Tutu’ by Kate Scott is a sequel to her novel ‘Boy in Tights’. The adventure continues for Joe (or Josephine) as he is now styled since going into hiding. The concept of parents who are spies is an outlandish one but it is full of comedy and this book’s audience of children will love it.
Joe must continue to pretend to be a girl as his new identity and to keep him safe from the enemy who want to track down his parents. In this book, Joe is coming to terms with the idea of spy parents and can even see some benefits; ballet is not one of them, though, and he is, once again, put into a difficult situation when he is sent to ballet lessons with his friend.
Being in disguise allows him to see what is hidden to others and there is a story spine running through the book of adults up to no good. Joe has to be a convincing girl to pass unnoticed at the local sports centre where an exhibition of World Cup memorabilia is vulnerable to thieves.
As well as being a comedy, this story highlights the border children cross when they understand what life is like for others. For Joe, being Josephine reveals a lot about the way girls are treated.
‘Spies in Disguise: Boy in a Tutu’ is a lot of fun. It is in my hinterland. What’s in yours?
I make a point of seeing every Matthew Bourne production I can. This show called ‘Early Adventures’ put together three dance pieces from the choreographer’s early career. As I came to his work quite late, I am so pleased to have the opportunity to see the earlier pieces.
‘Town and Country’ is a work of two halves, as suggested by the title. The ‘Town’ section was my favourite suggesting the British post-war world of Noel Coward and films such as ‘Brief Encounter’. Bourne’s talent lies partly in referencing cultural worlds in vignettes while building a sense of one story. He also represents love between two men without fuss. Love is where it falls and this is always made clear in Bourne’s work.
The other pieces, including the ‘Country’ half of ‘Town and Country’, are as much fun. The dancers exude a sense of joy as they perform and, whatever the production I have always come out of a Matthew Bourne work wondering why I never took up dance!
I have never watched the classic film ‘The Red Shoes’ all the way through but I have seen parts of it at various times, mostly when it is shown on television. I am a fan of Matthew Bourne, though, so a trip to London to see his new ballet was essential.
The production was unusual in that for the opening scene Bourne’s dancers looked like conventional ballet dancers. Throughout the story we return to scenes of rehearsals and there is the central ballet of The Red Shoes also performed for us. But this is Matthew Bourne so we know we are to see a creative representation of the film’s plot.
Vicky is the dancer who wants to catch the eye of the ballet impressario called Boris Lermontov. She joins the company along with Julian Craster, a young composer. The two flourish under the patronage of Lermontov until their growing feelings for each other get in the way. Vicky dances the star role in the ballet of the Red Shoes that ends the first act.
When Vicky and Julian have to leave the company, they end up in an East End music hall for the productions funnier scenes although this is not an enjoyable time for the young couple. The need to create and the need to dance consume them and as Vicky is reunited with the red shoes she is consumed by ballet in a way that mirrors the role she played in the ballet within this dance production.
Matthew Bourne’s dance productions are in my hinterland. What’s in yours?
The BBC drama- documentary ‘Dance to Freedom’ was an excellent portrayal of the events leading up to Russian dancer Rudolf Nureyev’s defection from the Soviet Union in 1961. A professional dancer was obviously needed to recreate the skill and talent of someone as famous as Nureyev and Bolshoi Ballet star Artem Ovcharenko took this role.
For many years, when growing up, Rudolf Nureyev was the only male ballet dancer I had heard of, and what I knew about him had more to do with the fact that he had defected to the West rather than anything to do with his dancing prowess.
The facts of the case are shown in this film by film- maker Richard Curson Smith broadcast by BBC television in December 2015. On 16 June 1961, Nureyev escaped from his KGB bodyguards at Le Bourget airport. He pushed his way across an airport concourse to the arms of the French police. In interviews, archive footage and the reconstructed drama we see that, rather than being a spontaneous act, political intrigue may have had a part to play and Nureyev, himself, may have been a bit player in a larger cold war game.
What is clear, though, is that there were costs to this action for the dancer as an individual cut off from his homeland as well as for his colleagues and family he left behind. As is often the case with Cold War stories, individuals are less important than the forces at work. The Soviet Union was keen to show off its ballet company, considered the best in the world; a cultural coup would add to the prestige the regime felt after putting a cosmonaut in space. Nureyev was the best young dancer the company had, yet he was volatile and felt constrained by company rules and expectations. He did not always behave well. In some ways, the talented dancer comes across as selfish; his talent brings a certain sense of entitlement. In the dramatised scenes in Paris he acts as the young star making the most of nights on the town. Why wouldn’t he enjoy this level of freedom? Yet, his colleagues were not able to enjoy this freedom in the same way. As a punishment for enjoying the Paris nightlife, he was recalled to Russia instead of heading to London and this news may have led to his decision to defect.
‘Dance to Freedom’ is an excellent survey of one Cold War’s cultural skirmish. It is in my hinterland. What’s in yours?
In London so I visited the National Portrait Gallery for what is now an annual pilgrimage to the Taylor Wessing Photographic exhibition. There is a lot of fun to be had in deciding which photographs I would have selected as the winners. It is rare that my choices match the actual winners but I have to accept that I am not the expert.
The photo I found the most striking was of a young male dancer waiting for an audition. The intensity of his focus as he prepares is impressive and is captured in this shot which shows him looking down. In taking her photograph moments before the audition, something of the jeopardy of the enterprise is expressed, both for the dancer and the photographer.
The photographer is Sophie Harris- Taylor and, like many of the photographs in this exhibition, the picture is one of a series. I often want to see the rest of the photographs but I understand it would be impractical to display them all.
I am a huge fan of Matthew Bourne’s work. I like the way he takes what we know and turns it on its head. Obviously, he is most famous for the re-imagining of ‘Swan Lake’ but this story, using the music from the Bizet opera of ‘Carmen’ is also amazing.
I am also a fan of the dancer Dominic North having seen him dance first as a student. He starred in the production of ‘The Car Man’ I saw.
The story diverts from the opera completely and, instead, takes the setting of 1960s America. When a new man walks into town, as they often do in stories set in America, we are set for a chemical reaction that is sexually charged. As ever with Matthew Bourne the sense of diversity in sexual attraction is present, so men as well as women are affected by the stranger’s arrival.
The ballet was first performed in 2000 but it is only recently that I saw a version. It was worth the wait.
Another documentary that explores the world of aspiring ballet dancers is ‘First Position’, a documentary from filmmaker Bess Kargman. The central narrative of this film is the Youth America Grand Prix, a competition that provides youngsters with the opportunity to win scholarships at prestigious ballet schools around the world.
For many of the entrants the prize offers a route to professional dancing that would otherwise be beyond their reach. Already singled out by their dance schools as potential stars, they find themselves mixing with others who are equally talented and just as committed.
The film explores the sacrifices made by these youngsters and their families. Michaela has been adopted from Sierra Leone by an American family whose many hours preparing costumes attest to their levels of support. Aran Bell has a supportive family, too, a commitment shown through the many miles they travel to support their son in competitions. Then again there is Jules Fogarty from California who has to rise very early to attend class along with his much more dedicated sister. He cares little for dancing but is here putting in the hours as his mother wants him to.
The mix of subjects is wider than in ‘Ballet Boys’ and not just because of the gender mix. There is the young man, Joan, from Colombia who moves to New York without his family so that he can continue ballet dancing. Life without a supportive family with him is hard, but Joan is dedicated.
It is inspiring to see the youngsters in this film. ‘First Position’ is in my hinterland. What’s in yours?