“Most successful yet” Bedales Dance Performs

BEDALES DANCE MARCH 2017 PB (39)6F7A7196

By Anastasia Sheldon, 6.2

Dancers across all the year groups came together on Thursday 9 March to perform an evening of eclectic dance pieces at our most successful Bedales Dance Performs yet.

The Block 4s made their first BAC appearance with ‘Hunted’, showing animalistic movement intertwined with energetic throws and lifts, showing real control and trust in each other. Block 5s choreographed their very own solos based on iconic choreography and group pieces inspired by topics they are studying across other subjects in school. Some of the dance pieces were examined that evening and a huge well done to everyone who was being moderated.

As for 6.1 and 6.2 dance students, we performed our own solos and group pieces in preparation for our exam in a few weeks, using students across all ages and some students that do not even study dance. The show closed with the 6.1 and 6.2 Enrichment piece ‘Shattered Minds’, where during our enrichment slot we worked together to create a sensitive piece showing how a group of survivors started their fight to build their community up after a natural disaster.

What an amazing evening to be a part of, the adrenaline was flowing back stage throughout all the pieces. I can speak on behalf of all the 6.2s when I say that we have thoroughly enjoyed performing in every Bedales Dance Performs, we will miss the buzzing atmosphere backstage, everyone we have worked with and the pure support that all the students have for each other.

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Charge: OB’s theatre work post-Bedales

Charge - Eve AllinBy Phil King, Director of Drama, Dance and Bedales Arts Programme

It was with a great sense of pride in recent Bedales drama and theatre studies graduates that I went to see Eve Allin’s play Charge performed at University of Warwick over the long leave weekend.

When here at Bedales, as drama Don, Eve won a major award at the National Student Drama Festival for reviewing live theatre and acted in, wrote, directed and assistant directed wonderful work while she was here.  Eve was a student who made the most of the panoply of theatrical options on offer here and Charge itself was part of the National Theatre New Views enrichment course.

The National Theatre said of Eve’s final draft that it was “a play with a great sense of the visual dimension, playing with fire and light both literally and metaphorically” and this excitement was captured in a converted Chemistry lecture theatre for the recent staging.  Seeing Charge as part of the week-long festival, Fresh Fest, offered me a chance to witness the energy, passion and drive great universities and great university students have for their subjects.  In an age where finance seems to sadly dominate most discussions about higher education watching a focussed army of directors, producers, technicians, actors and writers put on eight plays (that had to win a competition even to get to that point, selected by other students running the societies behind the scenes) was hugely heartening.

Even more heartening was watching Eve not only holding her own but being master of her world as a sharp-elbowed and highly knowledgeable first year (who is having to be highly selective of her drama courses to avoid repetition of the grounding she received whilst with us).  Well done Eve, from all of us.  We very much look forward to you making your mark, first on Warwick and then beyond.

Space and Time explored via theatre

 

By Jamie Murphy, 6.2, Drama Don

Inspired by their stimulus of ‘Space and Time’ Block 5 students recently performed their BAC devised pieces and the two groups took radically different paths.

The first piece, after looking at the David Bowie song Space Oddity, was an exploration of addiction, mental illness and loss, while the second investigated the lives of the astronauts that walked on the moon after looking at the book Moondust.

While both groups utilised physical theatre and naturalism to explore their themes, their narrative styles were markedly different. The first group devised three distinct vignettes that shared themes, while the second group chose to present a more linear narrative, seen through the eyes of the interviewer (who wrote the biographical novel) who witnessed the moon landing on television.

Both groups’ ingenuity, theatrical awareness and talent were clear throughout their pieces, which were evidence of how interesting and distinct devised pieces can be, even when ostensibly based entirely on the same stimulus.

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Mental Health and Arts Education – are we missing a trick?

By Phil Tattersall-King, Director of Drama, Dance and Bedales Arts Programme

Hot on the heels of the Prime Minister announcing that the government is to reform mental health with a particular focus on young people, a new report from the Culture Learning Alliance (CLA) has confirmed that taking part in arts subjects can help children to improve their academic and social skills, and to express their ideas. On the face of it, these are pretty much distinct events, but I would argue that perhaps they shouldn’t be.

One in four people has a mental disorder at some point in their life, and young people are affected disproportionately; over half of mental health problems start by the age of 14 and 75% by 18. To this end, the government is to provide additional training for teachers, an extra £15m for community care, and improved support in the workplace. Meanwhile, at the launch of the CLA report Imagine Nation: the value of Cultural Learning, president of the Royal Academy of Dance Darcey Bussell called for ‘physical literacy’ to be taught four times a week, and for protection and expansion of the arts curriculum in schools. The CLA observes that we have seen a decline in the number of children taking arts subjects, a reduction in arts teaching hours and fewer arts teachers employed. In turn, a government spokesperson has stressed the importance of music and the arts for transforming lives and providing opportunities.

For my own part, I wonder whether schools, and the arts in particular, might have an important role to play in the development of good mental health in young people, and offer government an educational option beyond dealing better with the obverse.

All over the world, staff and students in drama departments strive to provide a glimpse of worlds different from the ones we inhabit. Sometimes it’s a better world, sometimes worse – either way, theatre aims to change us as we get lost in the one we have created. The theatre of Bryony Kimmings and the spoken word of Cecilia Knapp do so to raise overtly issues concerning mental health that might otherwise remain hidden, and we have been keen to introduce students to their work. No less importantly, our students are increasingly the producers and thinkers behind theatrical ideas. We regularly stage devised performances, and exam boards all encourage students to devise their own work. The struggles involved with presenting their thoughts in this way have raised the game of a drama student, and made them wiser to the complexities of relationships. I can think of many students about whom teachers in other subjects have expressed concerns that they don’t ‘share’ in class, learning through drama that they can say their piece, and that the world will not end if they are challenged. It is immensely gratifying when, invariably, we find that this new confidence has transferred to their lessons in other subjects.

Whilst my own experience is purely anecdotal, it chimes with the CLA’s thoroughly-evidenced findings that theatre and drama improve young people’s social skills and emotional wellbeing, and that engaging in the arts increases young people’s resilience. The report cites evidence from the UK that art and music-related leisure at the age of 16 increases the odds of civic engagement at age 29 and, according to American studies, that an arts-rich education results in a greater likelihood of voting and participation in a political campaign. It also cites findings from a recent systematic review of relevant literature which found that volunteering and caring are both developed by arts engagement.

The social benefits of such outcomes are pretty much self-evident, but a closer look at the idea of ‘resilience’ – an idea with particular currency in discussions of education and young people’s mental health in the UK – suggests that there is a significant health benefit as well.

Adolescent psychologist Michael Carr-Gregg draws on the pioneering work of Emmy Werner in developing strategies to help young people develop resilience, which he describes as the capacity of young people to face, overcome, and be strengthened and even transformed by adversity. Werner’s work in Hawaii – in an area with high levels of adult unemployment and substance abuse – found that two thirds of young people exhibited destructive behaviours. Crucially, however, a third did not, and she found that these young people shared important characteristics – a finding reinforced in subsequent research.

Gregg stresses that, amongst other things, resilient young people develop absorbing passions, with their self-esteem boosted by having developed expertise, thus reinforcing the importance of practice and persistence. They have the facility of seeing life ‘as it is’ – knowing that bad things happen and how to deal with them, but also knowing that there are plenty of good things. They also do good, thus benefiting from a boost to their immune system and general well-being, and enjoy a sense of being part of something greater than themselves, such as a philosophy or a cause.

Looked at purely through the prism of young people’s mental health (there are other compelling reasons, of course), there would seem to a health benefit implicit in making arts education more of a priority. I believe that recent years have seen the arts marginalised in government’s enthusiasm for STEM subjects and the wider belief that the value of school is best understood in terms of GDP and economic competitiveness. If Theresa May is really serious about safeguarding young people’s mental health, she might do well to rethink – school is surely about all aspects of young people’s wellbeing, and there is a clear case for understanding arts education is essential in this regard.

Shakespeare: innovative and gender-blind

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By Jamie Murphy, 6.2, Drama Don

On Tuesday 21 February the Bedales Olivier Theatre was visited by Merely Theatre’s production of William Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet.

The company’s focus was on producing a ‘stripped-back’ Shakespeare where the text, as well as the relationship between performer and audience, is at the heart of every performance. With a sparse set and almost uniform costumes, the production focussed on Shakespeare’s writing and gave the actors room to experiment and pay close attention to the subtext of their lines. The themes of identity in Romeo and Juliet were explored by Merely Theatre through their use of gender-blind casting.

Juliet declares that “a rose by any other name would smell as sweet”; just as Shakespeare seemed to reject the importance of traditional identities and labels, Merely Theatre reject the significance of gender in representing character. All of the actors playing at least one role that wasn’t their assigned gender not only lent the production a sense of innovation, it also allowed for new interpretations of the narrative. For example, both Romeo and Juliet being played by men created a new layer to their forbidden love.

Merely Theatre’s production proved that Shakespeare can still be relevant to contemporary issues, and utilised a minimalist approach to create an engaging and intellectually accessible piece of theatre.

Top theatre practitioner encourages Block 5

Photo by Jack Offord

By Joe Siddle, Block 5

Last weekend Block 5 drama students were lucky enough to be visited by a well-established practitioner, Sarah Butcher, who has worked at the top theatres in the UK. Sarah came in for the weekend and advised and polished the Block 5 BAC scripted performances of Red Shoes directed by Jenni Brittain and 100 directed by Hayley Ager.

Photo by Jack OffordSarah is a co-founding director of the theatre company Non Zero One. She is one of five exceptional artists that make up Non Zero On’ who were formed in 2009 at Royal Holloway University. Non Zero One focus on interaction, conversation and audience participation by looking at relationships between people. Their work explores how relationships can be made and broken.

The company is also interested in the creative application of technology in performance; using live video, projection, hidden cameras, MP3 players, radio frequency headphones, live sound mixing and the Internet. The group makes work for theatres, gallery spaces and museums, with audience participation as a focus.

Sarah helped both BAC classes with blocking, adding soundscapes, and just generally helping to balance out the stage space and making sure that our key moments looked absolutely perfect.

It was an absolute pleasure to work with such a talented practitioner. A massive thank you to Joanne Greenwood, Jennie Brittain and Hayley Ager for a well-structured hard-working weekend and for bringing in Sarah to help take our work to next level.

Bedales meets… Alvin Ailey American Dance Theatre

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By Anastasia Sheldon, 6.2

Bedales dancers took a trip to the Mayflower in Southampton recently to see Alvin Ailey American Dance Theatre’s newest works including Revelations, the most widely-seen modern dance work in the world. Many of us have been studying the piece for BAC and A Level Dance, and seeing it live was a very exciting experience. Based on Ailey’s ‘blood memories’, Revelations illustrates scenes from his childhood such as going to church, baptism, and celebrations, all very spiritual and traditional experiences for a young African American growing up in the 1930’s. These stories are clearly translated into movement, dancing to traditional African drumming and gospel song. Other sections of the performance have been recreated and newly choreographed by the company’s current artistic director Robert Battle, who uses Ailey’s’ original techniques with modern stylised tweaks.

Ailey artistic director Robert Battle, dancers Hope Boykin and Rachael McLaren, rehearsal director/guest artist Matthew Rushing, and guest artist Alicia Graf Mack discuss what Mr. Ailey’s masterpiece, “Revelations” means to them.

photo-19-largeWe were also lucky enough to have a workshop the next day run by Matthew Rushing, the company’s rehearsal director. We worked with him for an hour and a half learning some basic Horton technique used by the company and repertoire from the performance. We learnt repertoire from their piece Exodus (2015) which was choreographed by Rennie Harris and looks at the House dance scene in America and was really fun to learn. Then we focused on the piece Revelations (1960) looking at two sections in particular, I’ve Been Buked and Didn’t My Lord Deliver Daniel, both of which required strength, control and strong alignment to be able to execute the movement fully.

The workshop really pushed our boundaries and Matthew went through the movement with us to help convey the stories behind the movement as we performed. All of us really enjoyed the workshop with Matthew, the way he delivered the movement allowed us to really engage and push our understanding of Alvin Ailey American Dance Theatre further.