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Chantry Dance Company's "Sandman" and "Dream Dance" Lincoln, 9 May 2014


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Two weeks ago I saw Ballet Theatre UK's The Little Mermaid in Southport. That ballet was based on  a story by Hans Christian Andersen. Yesterday I saw a ballet based on another of Hans Christian Andersen's tales, The Sandman or Ole Lukøje.  

 

The author summarized the story as follows:

 

"There is nobody in the world who knows so many stories as Ole-Luk-Oie, or who can relate them so nicely. In the evening, while the children are seated at the table or in their little chairs, he comes up the stairs very softly, for he walks in his socks, then he opens the doors without the slightest noise, and throws a small quantity of very fine dust in their eyes, just enough to prevent them from keeping them open, and so they do not see him. Then he creeps behind them, and blows softly upon their necks, till their heads begin to droop. But Ole-Luk-Oie does not wish to hurt them, for he is very fond of children, and only wants them to be quiet that he may relate to them pretty stories, and they never are quiet until they are in bed and asleep. As soon as they are asleep, Ole-Luk-Oie seats himself upon the bed. He is nicely dressed; his coat is made of silken fabric; it is impossible to say of what colour, for it changes from green to red, and from red to blue as he turns from side to side. Under each arm he carries an umbrella; one of them, with pictures on the inside, he spreads over the good children, and then they dream the most beautiful stories the whole night. But the other umbrella has no pictures, and this he holds over the naughty children so that they sleep heavily, and wake in the morning without having dreams at all."

 

Choreographed by Gail Gordon the Sandman was danced by Paul Chantry who entered in front of the stage in the shadows.  He mounted the stage which had a single prop: a hat stand and the sandman's two umbrellas.  Paul is a tall, elegant dancer and he circled the stage magisterially with his wide ronds de jambe and battements.  From the left entered his subject, Rae Piper, clad in a simple navy print shift. Rae has the most expressive face and she expressed joy under the multicoloured umbrella but with utter dismay to the plain one. Producing from his pocket a medicine bottle Paul sprinkled the sleep inducing drops over Rae's eyes. In the absence of programme notes I cannot recall the score but it was beautiful and Gail Gordon's choreography interpreted in perfectly.

 

Sandman was part of a double bill at Lincoln Drill Hall yesterday. The theme of sleep and dreams continued with Dream Dance, an improvisation. That was Chantry Dance's contribution to the Lincoln Inspired festival of literature, performance and art.

 

Before the show there was a workshop of which I attended about half owing to the nightmare of Lincoln's one way system, congestion and limited parking. Before I arrived the participants were invited to contribute ideas on the theme of sleep and to write them on post it notes. Having missed the beginning I slunk into the back of the auditorium but Gail spotted me and invited me on to the stage where I met the choreographers Paul and Rae and the dancers, Mel (Skydancer) with whom I had driven down from Sheffield, and two young women whom I know only as Fiona and Leanne from Coventry. Fortunately I had brought my ballet bag with me and I donned my leggings and shoes.

 

Rae showed me the post it notes on a large white board.  They included flying horses, dream, Valhalla and sketched out a story of the four of us with our separate dreams of flying to Valhalla. Fiona patiently taught me and rehearsed a phrase which we danced in unison which included a chassé across the stage, a simple turn to the right, chassé to the left, a left hand turn and opening our arms in second to the audience. Mel and Leanne who like Fiona are both good dancers, executed more intricate movements. Everybody's contributions came together in a short ballet which someone filmed on an i-pad.  We started with head rolls led by Mel. Taking our cue from her we thrust our arms above our heads and then tilted to one side.  Mel then executed her dance after which Fiona and I did ours followed by Leanne. Next we selected our visions of Valhalla which in my case was a flower. Returning to formation we turned in unison.  Leanne followed by Fiona danced on the floor. Mel and I with jetés joined them and we finished on the floor my right hand across Fiona's and my left on Mel's.

 

How we hugged each other like long lost friends after the show even though I had met none of the dancers before yesterday morning.  Mel and I had exchanged the occasional email before and we had followed each other on twitter but yesterday was the first time we had actually met. For me the experience of dancing on stage for the first time under the direction of professional dancers was very special. In Realizing a Dream 12 Sept 2013 I wrote:

 

"Me. Dancing to real ballet music in a real studio in a real ballet school. Imagine!"

 

Yesterday was the culmination of that dream and it was one of the best days of my life. I owe a lot of people a lot of thanks for that. First. Gail, Paul and Rae for letting me into their workshop. Secondly, Mel for drawing the workshop to my attention. Thirdly, my teachers. Fiona Noonan who coaxed me gently back into ballet and patiently guided me through barre and my first steps. A real labour of Sisyphus.  The wonderful Annemarie Donoghue of the Northern Ballet Academy who allowed me to build on that foundation. Sally Marshall who gave me my first ballet lessons at St Andrews 45 years ago. How she made me jump!  Chris Hinton Lewis, Adam Pudney and Cara O'Shea for their lessons. Finally, all the dancers, choreographers and teachers who have inspired me for the last 60 years.

 

Returning to the show, Paul and Rae laid the board with its post it notes on stage and selected themes from it for their improvisation. They invited Fiona, Leanne, Mel and me to dance with them and we did off stage. I cannot remember every movement that the principals did partly because I was dancing too but I loved a Latin American dance that allowed them to show off their virtuosity and dramatic skill.

 

Finally the afternoon ended with questions and answers.  I asked them how the company was formed and its vision.  They had been freelancers but formed themselves into a company after they had received a commission from China.  As can be seen from the What's On page Chantry Dance are very busy. They have a summer school between 28 July and 1 Aug and then they are taking their new ballet The Happy Prince on tour.

 

I have known some great moments in the ballet and yesterday's experience of dancing with Fiona, Leanne and Mel under the direction of Paul and Rae was right up there with them.

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Although I don't know how many of my colleagues, clients or clerks have actually seen the video, news of my participating in the Dream Dance workshop has spread like wildfire. It has no doubt given rise to a lot of harmless mirth. "Let us know if you ever do anything like this again, Miss" said the Junior Clerk, "we'll all come and watch you."  "Need a good laugh" he would have been justified in thinking to himself.

 

The Bar tends to give nicknames to those of its number it regards as eccentric. One of the foremost criminal silks in the last century whose first name was Robert was known as "Frothy Bob" as he could not help discharging spittle when in full flow.  Another eminent criminal and libel silk of my time of modest height was called somewhat ironically Gorgeous George. Goodness knows what my nickname will be but it will  not be flattering.

 

However I enjoyed the experience thoroughly and learned a lot. I would not have missed it for the world.

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