Travel: The Pros and Cons of Travelling with a Laptop

If you travel for business regularly, you probably take a laptop with you to work on the move; but an increasing number of us are also taking computers on holiday. The availability of WiFi in all but the remotest of destinations now means it’s easy to stay connected when you travel, using a phone, tablet or larger device. We take a look at the pros and cons of travelling with a laptop.




Picture this

Sharing your holiday pics used to mean taking rolls of film to Boots and showing physical albums to friends long after the trip was over; now it’s common to share images online direct from the beach. Phone cameras are good for posting quick snaps, but if you’re a keen photographer you’ll certainly want to take your DSLR on holiday with you to capture exotic scenery, holiday portraits, and wildlife images. Taking a laptop too means you can process and upload images while you’re still away – you’ll have a lovely memento, while friends and family back home will enjoy seeing what you’re up to!

Let me entertain you

Pop a couple of films or favourite TV shows on a lightweight laptop and you’ll have a ready-made entertainment system for long flights and train journeys. Take a few more and you won’t have to rely on local television networks or paying for in-room entertainment. While watching TV might not be your favourite holiday activity, a bit of welcome distraction can be especially useful for solo travellers and families travelling with children.

A vital connection

Nothing could be more blissful than getting away from the office completely for a week or two…or could it? The ‘worliday’ (working holiday) is a growing phenomenon and it is becoming more common for travellers to take a laptop away with them to catch up on work emails, check documents and keep in touch with the office. Spending an hour a day clearing emails and dealing with urgent problems can make the transition back to work at the end of a break less stressful; but it’s best to separate work and leisure and limit yourself to a specific time of day for work contacts, perhaps in the evening before dinner.


Don’t make me weight

With developments to screen and storage technology, laptops and notebooks are coming down in weight all the time. There’s no getting around the fact that a larger desktop-replacement model can still be a cumbersome thing to lug around with you, however, so think twice about bringing a full-sized laptop if your luggage limit is tight. Or check out the new breed of ultraportable laptops: Asus, Dell and all have compact lightweight models to suit a range of budgets.

Take my stuff away

Like any valuable item, a laptop carries a small risk of being stolen when you transport it around the world. To avoid the expense and hassle of a stolen computer, keep your laptop bag with you at all times when travelling (walk with it across your body and keep it next to you on the train or under the seat in front on the plane). If you’re leaving your computer in the hotel room when heading out to the beach, lock it in the hotel safe or leave it with the front desk if there’s no safe or locker. Consider using a cable lock to keep your machine secure when working at a public table; laptop snatches are uncommon but a solid and visible lock will help deter opportunist thieves. If that all sounds like too much effort, leave the laptop at home and find an internet cafe instead.

Travelling with a laptop helps travellers stay in touch when they are abroad. Be sure your travel insurance covers your electronics, just in case it is damaged or stolen during your trip.

Originally published at

Feature: Dance To The Music – contemporary dance in music video

You might not look to pop video clips for your contemporary dance kicks – but in fact, as Lise Smith points out, techniques, choreography, styles and ideas from contemporary dance have been a distinctive influence on the development and direction of music video.

Popular music and artful contemporary dance have rarely been easy bedfellows. Chart music might be uniquely capable of getting the masses moving every weekend in social spaces from ballrooms to warehouses, but contemporary choreographers working in the theatre tend not to look for musical accompaniment from popular sources. Classical and neoclassical compositions, avant-garde and electronic soundscapes, natural sounds and ambient noise have all soundtracked works by choreographers from Merce Cunningham to Mark Morris, but rarely has pop music (by which I mean any popular form rather than purely synth-based bubblegum) been given serious choreographic attention. Think of dance and pop together and (depending on your age and powers of recall) you’re more likely to think of either the choreographic oeuvre of Flick Colby and her various troupes on Top of the Pops, or of fresh-faced youngsters in lycra dancing a synchronised number behind a lip-synching singer on MTV. Neither example is likely to be mistaken for sophisticated contemporary dance.

Look beyond these overarching norms, however, and there are pockets of choreographic brilliance to be found on music television. Artists with an interest in performance have pushed at the boundaries of the promo video and its creative possibilities almost as long as the form has been with us, bringing contemporary dance and choreography to audience numbers undreamed of by theatre choreographers.

Before we dive deeper into some of these four-minute gems, let’s take a quick look at how music videos became the vital part of music promotion and consumption they are today.

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The Glow That Illumines – lighting and dance

Lighting for dance has become a field of expertise and artistry in itself. Lise Smith casts an eye over its background and speaks to some of its leading lights.

Photo: J Louis Fernandez.

As any physics student will tell you, a beam of light is invisible until it hits something to illuminate. In a similar way, the people who sit up in the technical booth and control the rhythm and direction of their beams of light onstage have, until recently, tended to be invisible to those who watch their work. We know there’s somebody up there – there’s a name in the programme and a gesture by the performers at the end of a show – but for many years the figure of the lighting designer him or herself rarely received much public attention.

Now that is changing, and the ability of lighting designers to transform and elevate a piece of dance is increasingly acknowledged. In addition to industry plaudits such as the Knights of Illumination awards, lighting designers for dance are receiving recognition for their collaborations with choreographers. In April 2014, designer Michael Hulls received an Olivier Award for Outstanding Achievement in Dance, indicating a growing appreciation for lighting as a vital part of the creative process itself and not a supplementary layer added towards the end. A generation ago there were no technical courses aimed at producing professional lighting designers for the theatre; now there are dozens, including three-year honours courses at Central School of Speech and Drama and RADA.

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8 Facts About India That Might Surprise You

Shopkeeper in India

1. India is BIG

India is big. Really big. You just won’t believe how vastly, hugely, mind-bogglingly big it is. Reaching almost 2,000 miles from Kashmir in the north to Tamil Nadu in the south, and a similar distance from east to west, the sheer scale of India means it is very unlikely you’ll be able to experience the whole country in just one trip. It’s best to select two or three key regional hubs (for example Mumbai, Panjim and Bangalore in the south, or Kolkata, Darjeeling and Lucknow in the north-east) and give yourself plenty of time to travel between locations — you can always return if you want to see more.

2. There are 22 official languages

Along with its physical size, India is renowned for its regional diversity — in language, culture, food and architecture. That diversity makes the country endlessly fascinating, even to those who have visited before — but it can make trying to learn the local lingo more challenging than usual for travellers who like to pick up a few phrases. Make sure you check the local language before you leave (Hindi won’t get you far in the south) and pick up an appropriate phrasebook or two.

3. There’s more to Indian cuisine than Chicken Tikka Masala

A trip to India will acquaint you with dozens of delicious dishes that aren’t easily found in the UK. Up in the hills you’ll find delicate steamed dum pukht slow-cooked in a sealed pot over a low fire; simply-cooked fresh fish in Kerala and Goa; and scrumptious masala dosa all over the south. One of the best ways to experience Indian cooking, especially if you’re spectacularly hungry, is an all-you-can-eat thali — a huge pile of rice served with several different kinds of curry and vegetable, topped up whenever your plate looks empty. Hard to beat for taste and value, the best are found at roadside cafes and served on a fresh green banana leaf.

4. Kolkata is a great city to visit

Kolkata (previously known as Calcutta) was for many years associated with poverty and overpopulation, particularly following India’s war with neighbouring Bangladesh in the early 1970s. In the last quarter of a century, however, Kolkata has seen profound economic and infrastructure development, and today is a beautiful and fascinating city rich with history and culture. Don’t be afraid to visit — and don’t limit yourself to the tourist centre of Sudder Street, either. Kolkata has much more to offer than backpacker hostels, and it’s a great place to begin a mountain trekking holiday in West Bengal.

5. You won’t be able to find a decent cup of tea

For a country that produces a quarter of the world’s tea, India as a nation really doesn’t seem to know what to do with the stuff once it’s grown and processed. Indian chaiwallahs overwhelmingly serve tea powder boiled in sweetened milk for upwards of an hour and left to stew all morning to produce a substance almost, but not quite, entirely unlike tea. If you’re a fan of tea brewed the way God intended, it’s best to self-cater, using your own tea bags.

6. You can have a great trip to India without ever venturing into the “Golden Triangle”

Countless visitors to India spend their first encounter schlepping between Delhi, Agra, Jaipur and Varanasi according to an itinerary promoted by external agencies as a trip through the very best India has to offer. This tactic has led to the “Golden Triangle” becoming one of the most overcrowded, over-touristed, overpriced and underwhelming portions of the entire subcontinent. Not only are there other parts of India, there are other parts of India that are substantially friendlier, more beautiful, less polluted, and less generally stressful than these four cities. If you’d like to visit Rajasthan, try heading further west to the peaceful holy city of Pushkar or the lovely lake city of Udaipur; or why not approach Varanasi from Kolkata (see above) rather than Delhi?

7. The Taj Mahal isn’t the only beautiful building in India

The Taj is without a doubt India’s most iconic architectural site, and many people travel to the country simply to view it. That’s a shame, because there’s a wealth of other buildings and sites in the country that often get overlooked in the Taj’s shadow. The Sri Meenakshi temple in Madurai, Tamil Nadu is a striking example of Dravidian architecture; the Ellora caves near Aurangabad in Maharashtra are full of stunning rock-cut sculptures; and the 16th-century Mattancherry Palace in Cochin, Kerala is well worth a visit for its painted murals and polished wooden floors. Look beyond Agra, and India’s wealth of architecture might just surprise you.

8. Most Indians really do just want to help

The Golden Triangle (see above) and Delhi in particular are well-known among travellers for the number of commission-merchants and scam-artists whose primary motivation is to separate unwary tourists from the contents of their wallets; visitors to these areas are wise to be cautious. Outside of the major tourist centres, the majority of Indians really do want to help you have a good experience of their country; it’s not uncommon to be invited to somebody’s house for tea or dinner, and travellers to India often make lifelong friends with local people they meet on the road. Use your common sense and follow your instincts, but remember that the majority of Indians genuinely do want to give visitors a warm welcome.

Originally published at

Adult Playtime: Great Ways For Grown-Ups To Have Fun In London

Building robots at Make Shop Do

Building Lego robots at Drink Shop Do, by Lindsey Clarke

There are lots of great things about being grown-up. Nobody can tell you what time you have to go to bed; you can legally spend your hard-earned income on a wide variety of alcoholic delights; and you’ll never again have to sit through an afternoon of Double Maths. But there are also times when it seems like the kids get all the fingerpainting, frame-climbing, rope-swinging fun, and that strikes us (in the most mature way possible) as so unfair.

Envy the under-12s no more, for we’ve rounded up the capital’s best places for good, clean fun – pigtails and short trousers optional.

Get crafty

Fancy breaking out the crayons, glitter and glue in the company of like-minded persons your own age? Drink Shop Do in King’s Cross offers the chance to do just that and much more, all with a freshly-shaken cocktail in hand. In the next two weeks alone, you can hand-craft a Valentine’s card for that special someone in your life, make a super-scary papier mâché monster, build a Lego robot with a prize for the most ingenious, and screen-print a tea-towel – an ideal gift for Mother’s Day, or just to take pride of place in your own kitchen. Evening events (quaintly known as “dos”) start after work and many are free – take a look at this month’s listings for booking info and timings, or email

If the idea of eating the fruits of your creative labours appeals to you, head on down to Notting Hill’s Biscuiteers where you can spend the afternoon hand-icing a selection of biscuits, and then the evening stuffing them into your face. Or maybe that’s just us. A session at their Icing Cafe costs £15 for three biscuits, and there’s no need to book – just drop in for sweet-toothed fun.

A more permanent memento can be created at one of the three Pottery Cafe branches, where you can paint your own crockery and kitchenware (a jar for those hand-iced biscuits, maybe?) to be glazed and fired by the team. Late-night adult-only sessions take place on Thursdays from 6pm – you’ll need to book as a group – and a pottery-decorating session will set you back £5.99 plus the cost of your chosen items. There are Pottery Cafes in Fulham, Richmond and Battersea.

Fiddle With Knobs, Walk With Dinosaurs


Science Museum Lates, by M@.

While the Science Museum’s holdings are vast and fascinating, it’s the room full of levers, buttons and screens that most of us remember fondly from our formative years.

The museum’s Launchpad gallery remains its most popular, but is normally the preserve of children. One night each month, however, the museum opens late for an adults-only evening of exploration, including that room full of buttons and knobs. The next one, at time of writing, is Wed 26 February.

A similar event takes place monthly at the Natural History Museum, where grown-ups can mingle among the dinosaurs without treading on any nippers. The next one is on Friday 28 February.

Jump around

It’s playtime for all ages at the Wild Kingdom Playspace on Three Mills Green in Newham, with plenty of rugged tree swings, scramble nets and an outdoor trampoline. Head to Bromley-by-Bow for some gentle adventure fun. More adventurous types will enjoy thetreetop assault course at Go Ape in Trent Park, Enfield. Not for the height-averse, Go Ape involves making your way around a forest on rope ladders, jungle bridges, cargo nets and zip lines 40 feet off the ground. The experience costs around £30, depending on party size, and is a great way to get back in touch with nature as kids do best – by climbing up it.

Go wild


A pair of asses, at a recent Zoo Lates, by M@.

Going to the zoo isn’t just a treat for the little ones – Zoo Lates at London Zoo is strictly for over-18s only, and combines evening access to the animal enclosures with pop-up bars, cabaret and comedy. Head down after work and relax with a drink as you enjoy a huge variety of wildlife from butterflies and rainforest mammals to penguins and tigers. There’s even an adult ball-pond. Zoo Lates will return this summer every Friday in June and July – expect tickets to be around a tenner.

Whether you want to copy a dance video like you used to do in front of the bedroom mirror, hit up a fancy dress party, or just dig in the sandpit JCB-style, there are lots of other adult-only experiences in and around London to help you connect with your inner child. Let us know your favourites!

Originally published at

West Side Story – A Timeless American Tale

Think of mid-century musical theatre, and you probably think of a tuneful slice of escapism: lavish sets and eyecatching costumes; toetapping dance routines; a boy, a girl a love story. West Side Story’s 1957 opening marked a significant departure from that formula, and set a new template for the modern musical.


The tunes are there, of course, courtesy of Leonard Bernstein’s memorable score, and Jerome Robbins’ energetic dance numbers set new standards for Broadway choreography. But the story is set against a background of poverty, racial prejudice and juvenile delinquency; and although boy meets girl, the lovers are denied their happy ending. Against a background of increasing real-world violence on the streets of New York, and in common with its contemporaries in theatre (Look Back In Anger) and film (Rebel Without A Cause), West Side Story eschews the feelgood conventions of traditional musicals and ushers in a much grittier period of storytelling.

Now rightly regarded by many as a classic, West Side Story almost didn’t happen, shunned by almost every theatre producer in town and lacking financial backing until a late stage. The show’s innovations appeared at the time to be insurmountable challenges: a difficult score requiring singers with larger vocal ranges than is usual on Broadway, demanding choreography and a dark, death-filled story based not on lighthearted romance but on one of Shakespeare’s most enduring tragedies.

It took the belief of producer Hal Prince, a personal friend of lyricist Stephen Sondheim, to put the project back on track in early 1957 – and the rest, from the rapturous critical reception and a 732- night opening run, to the Academy Award-winning 1961 film, revivals in 1980 and 2009 and the current touring production, is musical theatre history. “West Side Story is the most famous tragic love story of all time told though infectious music and modern iconic choreography,” says choreographer and director Joey McKneely. “Once you see West Side Story, you will never forget it!” McKneely carries a part of the musical’s heritage with him: he danced for choreographer Jerome Robbins on Broadway in 1989. “At 20 yrs old, I got the chance to dance for Jerome Robbins. When I was approached to do the show, it was a privilege,” he says.

McKneely, who has also choreographed the musicals Smokey Joe’s Café and The Boy From Oz starring Hugh Jackman, took up the reins in 2009, and “For me, it is the passing of the torch – it changed my life when I danced this choreography. I now change a new generation of dancers each time I do the show.”

West Side Story closely follows the narrative of Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet, but with one important difference – where Shakespeare’s lovers come from two aristocratic households “alike in dignity”, Bernstein and Sondheim’s young couple are related to two street gangs, one noticeably more disadvantaged than the other. The Puerto Rican Sharks have come to New York seeking opportunity; signature song “America” with its lyrics about grime, crime and “doors slamming in our face” reveals the stark contrast between the dream and the reality. Riff’s blue-collar Jets are barely a rung up the social ladder from Bernardo’s Latino Sharks, but their white European roots afford them a measure of protection from the city’s corrupt and racist police force.

Topical as the story of warring streets gangs was in mid-century Manhattan, the theme has continued resonance today. “Just open a newspaper today,” says McKneely. “There is always a story of how some youths got killed by a group of others just for being from a different ethnic group. It shows us how fear can destroy love.” McKneely feels that the lessons of West Side Story are as relevant and important today as they were in the postwar period, if not even more so. Musical Director Donald Chan, who has also directed productions of West Side Story for the Cleveland Opera and at La Scala in Italy, agrees: “The same story is presented over and over again in life – racism, star crossed lovers. And it also has great music!”

With its complex, varied score and street-tough choreography, West Side Story has always been an exhilarating challenge for its performers. “It is a very difficult show to cast,” says Chan. “The vocal and dancing challenges are immense because it requires us to find very young performers who can sing, dance and act.” McKneely agrees: “The choreography requires a strong command of technique, and the score has opera heights to it, difficult to find in young performers. In addition, touring productions are rigorously monitored by the Berstein and Robbins estates, requiring exacting standards of rehearsal and performance. The current version was extremely well received on its last visit to Sadler’s Wells – and not only by the UK press, but by members of the Bernstein family. “There is nothing like having Leonard Bernstein’s daughter Jamie come up to you and say, ‘My father would have been very proud of this production!’” smiles Chan.

Jerome Robbins’ choreography, an innovative blend of modern ballet and tougher, urban styles with Latin influences on the Sharks numbers, has reached iconic status. Not only are the sequences immediately familiar to anyone who has seen the stage show or 1961 film; they have taken on a life of their own outside of musical theatre, popping up in everything from adverts for khakis and soft drinks to fashion shoots, sit-coms, music videos and even an episode of the usually deadpan Curb Your Enthusiasm.

Bernstein’s score, likewise, has an influence far beyond its Broadway roots – songs from the show have been covered by artists as diverse as Tom Waits, Salt’n’Pepa and the Pet Shop Boys, and sampled by rock heavyweights Alice Cooper and Metallica. Compositions such as the “Tonight Quintet” also went on to inspire more complex arrangements in other musical theatre productions, most notably Matt Stone and Trey Parker’s first South Park feature film.

Initially considered too dark and depressing for the Broadway stage, West Side Story’s tragic narrative proved an emotive hit with audiences, and marked a turning point in the history of musical theatre, allowing the form to explore darker and more serious subjects . Now over 50 years old, West Side Story still draws huge audiences with its timeless tale told through thrilling dance and music. “It is always the story which draws audiences to the show,” explains McKneely. “The music and dance are so interwoven into the fabric of its story, it captures every emotion one feels in a lifetime.”

Originally published by Sadler’s Wells (programme note)


The weather gods smiled on Canary Wharf this weekend for the Docklands debut of the Big Dance youth dance day as part of Greenwich and Docklands International Festival 2013. Previously held at The Scoop, City Hall as a London Youth Dance initiative, the youth dance day featured for the first time on Saturday in Dancing City as part of the wider GDIF festival of outdoor performing arts.

Twenty youth dance companies featuring performers aged 5 to 21 years old and working in diverse styles including ballet, contemporary dance, Afro-contemporary, jazz, hip hop and classical Indian dance took to the stage immediately in front of Canary Wharf tube station. The day was hosted by the effervescent Katie P, who also led a workshop teaching the Big Dance Pledge dance choreographed this year by English National Ballet artists Laura Harvey and Jenna Lee.

The aim of this year’s event was very much to celebrate the wide array of dance styles taking place in the capital and bring youth dance to a wider audience of festival attendees and passers-by. As well as being thrilled to perform to a public audience, many of the young dancers enjoyed the opportunity to watch other groups – “It’s nice to see something different from us – other types of dance,” says Emily from Copthall School in Barnet, performing in classmate Lauren’s GCSE dance choreography. Lauren agrees: “It was really fun, a really nice atmosphere, nice seeing people!”

A number of the young people performing at this year’s event represented youth groups connected to professional touring dance companies, including Impact Dance’s Fully Functioning Individuals, State of Emergency’s Re-position, and Myself dance company’s youth group Me.I, directed by choreographer Khloe Dean. “Our piece was originally created to celebrate International Women’s Week,” explains company member Saskia, “so it has a lot of songs from current female MCs and it’s about representing female power in terms of MCs.”

Like many of the dancers present on Saturday Saskia hopes to continue dancing and is looking forward to training at an institution such as Trinity Laban or London Contemporary Dance School, both of which were represented on stage. A group from The Place Centre for Advanced Training presented a piece created over just three days at their recent intensive training week, looking at connections and relationships entitled Em Nós, Nós Confio (“in us we trust”); while theTrinity Laban Youth Dance Company paired up with integrated youth company Cando2 to create The Butterfly Effect.

“Trinity Laban and Candoco now have a partnership,” explains Laban Youth Company directorStella Howard, “and we thought what a lovely way to start it would be to bring the two youth companies together.” The dancers worked together for term with Stella and Cando2 directorSarah Blanc to create material devised from a series of creative tasks. “Once the kids came together, they got on so well and worked so well creatively together. It was a real pleasure to see two groups of teenagers come together, work together and create material.”

Some of the youngest performers came from Sanskriti Limited, a school teaching the classical South Indian dance style of Bharatanatyam. Despite the public setting and a large audience, the tiny dancers weren’t in the least bit daunted and presented two traditional pieces, one seeking the blessing of Lord Ganesh and the other portraying the triumph of good over evil.

“It’s about coming together and celebrating dance,” says host Katie P, a passionate advocate of youth dance and a regular fixture at previous London Youth Dance days. “Youth dance is so important – it’s basically the future, so we need to inspire, get these young people involved. Having a platform for it shows that dance really is for everyone, and you can start at any age!”

Report & video: Lise Smith

Big Dance youth day, as part of Dancing City, Canary Wharf, Greenwich & Docklands International Festival.

Photos: Gigi Giannella
Originally published at

Dance: News: Facing Forwards

The first meeting of the Female Choreographers Collective took place at The Actors’ Church, Covent Garden last Saturday. Lise Smith went along to find out more…

It’s a question that rolls around every few years – given the overwhelming prevalence of women in dance (as trainees, performers and administrators), where are the female choreographers and artistic directors, and why are they so much less visible than men in the industry? Pioneers such as Martha Graham, Ninette de Valois and the great Pina Bausch broke new ground for women in the 20th century, but female choreographers seem to be a low priority for major venues currently.

In October 2009, Dance UK and Dance Umbrella co-hosted a debate chaired by dance critic Judith Mackrell discussing the issues surrounding women in dance. Now two young choreographers, Jane Coulston and Holly Noble, have set up the Female Choreographer’s Collectiveto further investigate the causes of women’s under-representation at the top levels of dance, and to provide networking and performance opportunities for female choreographers at all career stages.“I think at the moment what we’re aiming to do more than anything is ask people for their stories, and what they’ve seen through their careers,” says Holly. “We’ve got some very young choreographers that have contacted us, we’ve got some very well-established choreographers and people in the middle; but they’re all saying, ‘why aren’t we out there, why do we not sell tickets, why don’t the big theatres take us on to present work?’”

Since the launch of the FCC just three weeks ago, over 150 choreographers have signed up to the organisation and more are expected to do so in the coming weeks. The aim of the collective is to support female choreographers through forums, performance platforms and information sharing, and to continue investigating the problems facing female choreographers in a more sustained way than previous events have been able to achieve. “We’re here to ask the questions,” says Jane. “We’re not necessarily here to provide any answers, for now, but the more we hear from each other’s experiences, the more we talk in these forums the more we might find out about that.”

The collective aims to build strong relationships between choreographers, venues and dance agencies in order to instigate debate and encourage an ongoing conversation about the issues female dance artists come up against. “So many female choreographers that we’ve spoken to are continually creating and showing work all over the country, they do this for a number of years and still there’s not support. Overwhelmingly people feel like they’re not being listened to, that they get looked over.” A number of female choreographers the pair have spoken to have reported a lack of practical support with commissioning and funding, whereas male choreographers seem to break through and develop a public profile much more easily, with the support of venues and agencies.

The lack of profile for female choreographers – even those with good artistic reputations – has been debated before. “Some dance artists and choreographers we were talking to before said they were talking about this 25 years ago,” says Jane. One of the goals of the FCC is to bring together different networks and forums that may already be taking place across the UK, and look at the questions being asked in a collaborative and comprehensive way over time. “Our role can be to bring these things together, all the pieces of the puzzle,” adds Jane. “We don’t see any end to this, we see just this interesting and fascinating process for however many years to come, so that we really make some headway with it. I’m sure the questions may change, lots of things are going to change along the way.”

The FCC was launched on Saturday with a platform of work by four very different female choreographers. Lucia Piquero’s lyrical piece for Diciembre Dance Group draws on literary sources, where Jane’s own piece for Beyond Repair Dance is much more abstract, movement-led and androgynous. Anna Watkins of Watkins Dance showed a sensual contemporary duet inspired by a developing relationship; Holly’s piece for A.D. Dance Company also examines human relationships, but with a focus on the darker side. Jane feels that there is no single female style or voice that can be identified among women choreographers working today. “The most important thing that we know even from the few things we’ve done so far is that there are a multitude of female choreographers out there making such diverse work, different work. Some (for example, Charlotte Vincent’s ) – will be gender-led and some won’t, so we want to figure out what else is going on.”

For the next year, the FCC’s main task will be to compile information on members using a short membership form. The collective will also share news so that members can keep each other informed of touring and performance activity; and the collective will run its own showcase platforms across the UK. Holly: “One of our ideas that we’re thinking about doing next year is putting a platform on with six excerpts of work, three by male choreographers and three by female choreographers, but we’re not going to say who the choreographers are. We’d invite a cross-section of audience to give feedback and to ask who they think created each work, just to see what happens.”

The next 6 to 12 months will be vital in shaping the ongoing aims of the Female Choreographers Collective, and determining how best the group can support and represent female choreographers. “I think that once we’ve we create that network it’s going to be a real support system and a real kind of push in the right direction,” says Jane. Men are warmly welcomed to the planned discussion forums to give their side of the story and help build a picture of activity. “At the moment don’t know where it’s going to go exactly,” adds Holly. “We know it’s something we feel passionate about, we want to keep doing it, we want to talk to people we want to raise awareness, we want to do all those things, but I don’t know in a year’s time what the answers will be or what will have happened.”

For more information about the Female Choreographers Collective contact Jane and Holly:

Vanishing Pointe: Where are all the great female choreographers? Judith Mackrell, Guardian, Oct 2009
Originally published at

Dance: Try a Little Tenderness – International Dance Festival Birmingham

When I reviewed Canadian choreographer Dave St-Pierre’s Un Peu de Tendresse Bordel de Merde! on its Sadler’s Wells debut back in June last year, I described it as “not a show for the faint-hearted (nor for the flob-averse).” There seems little point in denying that the show contains two dozen naked Canadians, who at various points descend into the audience for some eye-socking full-frontal encounters.Portions of the work are decidedly biological, and anyone uncomfortable with dangly bits in their close proximity is unlikely to be comfortable with this show. There’s also plenty of hearty Gallic expectoration. But none of this stops Un Peu de Tendresse… being by turns hilarious, affecting and beautiful.

Critics at the London performances were sharply divided on the show’s merits. A few declared the show’s (literally) in-your-face
nudity offensive; the Daily Mail’s Quentin Letts went so far as to call it “an assault on our values.” It’s hard to imagine many people in the 21st century still being offended by the sight of the human body, and it must be said that the use of nudity in this production is neither gratuitous nor titillating: St-Pierre’s naked characters are played as innocent ingénues, skipping gaily about the stage with the kind of free abandon that most of us have long since left behind.

Other detractors labelled the piece’s perceived shock-tactics tedious or hackneyed, pointing to shows (Hair and Oh! Calcutta among them) that displayed their performers at a time when nudity onstage was uncommon. For me, this objection also misses the essence of the production – the nudity is not designed to shock in the sense of senseless provocation, but rather to reveal the dancers in all their human vulnerability. Dancers appear not merely naked, but dressed in blonde milkmaid wigs that effect a total transformation of character from taciturn adults to pleasureseeking infants.

Many of St-Pierre’s nude scenes are uproariously funny, the blonde-wigged male characters flocking together to comment on the action in squeaky falsetto voices. Other sequences delve – often poignantly – into the tenderness of the title. A slapstick scene in which a bewigged gentleman tries repeatedly to take a running jump into the arms of his suitor ends in distressing failure; his raw nakedness leaves no hiding place for fear of rejection, fear of intimacy or simple fear.

One or two critics of the London show disliked being singled out by dancers in the scene where the performers romp among the audience, not so much breaking the fourth wall as smashing right through it in a move that completely removes the line between performer and audience. This was probably the scene that enjoyed the most walkouts, but is also absolutely key to the performance as a whole. By participating in this baptism of flesh, the audience identifies much more readily with the performers for
the rest of the show (critic Sanjoy Roy described this as feeling “tenderised” by the sequence).

Survive this scene and you’ll receive frosty congratulations from “Sabrina”, our sardonic onstage narrator. Sabrina comments on the frantic attempts at coupling around her with icy detachment; at times, she seems to function as a superdominant superego, demanding that we repress all pleasures into the bottoms of our psyches. Clothed, the performers submit to Sabrina’s will: gruff and stoic, the men silently rebuff their female partners and the women can do little to connect with them. Naked, the performers openly seek affection, attention and love like the giddy inner children they portray.

St-Pierre’s work is clearly indebted to the late, great Pina Bausch and her emotionally exposing Tanztheater; indeed, Bausch herself blessed St-Pierre’s dancers as “my illegitimate, pornographic children.” Illegitimate they may be, but I’d dispute the charge of pornography – Un Peu de Tendresse… is finally not a work about bodies or sex, but about human frailty, vulnerability and (the clue’s in the title) tenderness. Bring an open mind, a sense of humour – and if you’re in the first few rows, some kind of spit-protection.

Lise Smith is a dance artist and writer, regularly contributing to and a number of other arts publications.

Dave St Pierre Company // Un peu de tendresse bordel de merde!
26-28 April //Warwick Arts Centre, Coventry

Dance:Inteview – Betsy Gregory, Dance Umbrella

Betsy Gregory. Photo: Hugo Glendinning

Betsy Gregory is Artistic Director of Dance Umbrella, Britain’s largest international festival of new dance. The festival, established in 1978, invites and commissions work by choreographers and companies from around the world and offers a platform to emerging artists through its Brief Encounters strand. A former Associate Director of The Place, Betsy joined Dance Umbrella at the end of 1997, and succeeded Val Bourne as Artistic Director in 2007.

“When the idea of London hosting British Dance Edition 2012 was born, it was actually a partnership between the venues for obvious reasons. However, when the partners started planning they realised that what should be coming out of BDE is a strategic partnership for dance development in London, and so they invited Dance Umbrella to be part of the consortium. Our role has been to be one of the programming voices but also, in a way, to be the non-aligned voice, that is not being aligned to a venue.

“Certainly over the time I’ve been with Dance Umbrella the dance landscape has changed – largely, I think it’s fair to say, because of all the pioneering work that Val [Bourne] did over many years. What we’re really focusing on now is what a festival can do that a venue can’t as easily – we’ve introduced strands of high quality free and outdoor performances, and very high level participatory work with artists such as Rosemary Lee, Stephen Petronio and Royston Maldoom . We take dance to unusual spaces and venues where it doesn’t normally go – and we make a point of creating a context around the work, building a story around the programme to expand the audience’s understanding and take them on a journey.

“We are extremely privileged in London because we see everything. I think London must be the world’s crossroads for dance – I dare say not even in New York is there such a range of international work passing through. We see not only the most established companies from around the world, but also a fantastic range of international artists at all stages of their careers, from Africa, Asia, Eastern Europe, from everywhere. It’s a marvellous thing for audiences and it’s also a really stimulating thing for artists, to have that such a diversity of work at their fingertips in order to feed their own practice.

“On a very simple but important level, the difference between the UK and the US is that we still have government funding of the arts in this country; it’s a terrible thing that it’s been reduced on the scale that it has, but we still have it. What I have observed in New York over the last 10 – 15 years, where there is almost a complete lack of statutory funding, is that there is less time for artists to work and therefore there’s not as much inspirational work coming from there as there could be. I fear that’s what’s going to happen here.

“I’m really excited about going to see the David Hockney exhibition [The Royal Academy] , I must say. I also recommend the Sir John Soane Museum , an amazing, small museum in Lincoln’s Inn Fields. Soane was an 18th century architect who built the Bank of England, Dulwich Picture Gallery and a lot of other buildings. He had three houses in Lincoln’s Inn Fields which he knocked together. This museum is his house and also his collection of antiquities – it’s very eccentric and very wonderful. When I have visitors I always send them there. Look it up, it’s good!”

Originally published at