Interview |Bo Jackson |Manchester Gala Night

Z Bo Jackson Company. Photo Garry Lake @theaboutstudio

The UK’s most exciting new dance company Z Bo Jackson Company are heading to Manchester with a star-studded gala hosted by Got to Dance judge and Pussycat Doll Kimberly Wyatt. The gala evening will include performances from guest artists Flawless (Britain’s Got Talent, Street Dance 2) and ITV’s Dance, Dance, Dance winner Chrissy Brooke.

We spoke to Choreographer Bo Jackson about her new dance fusion venture ahead of its gala night launch at Manchester’s Palace Theatre on Tuesday 10th September.

Can you tell us more about Z Bo Jackson and where the idea came from?

“I really became interested by today’s obsession with visual storytelling on Youtube, instagram and in video games. There seemed to be a gap in the market for a theatrical experience that satisfies this appetite both on screen and with live performances so I started to develop the concept for TV and stage. In February we had the opportunity to explain our vision of the live dance fusion theatre company to the Palace Theatre and Opera House in Manchester. They understood and embraced our concept and agreed to support the gala night to launch the brand.”

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What makes Z Bo Jackson different from other dance companies out there?

“We are the UK’s first dance fusion theatre company. Each production contains unique and diverse choreography, alongside a narrative structure dramatized by dance and creating a new kinetic language. The Z brand will break down the walls of dance to create a new kind of dance experience, as free runners mix with elite dancers, and ballet cross-pollinates with hip hop. Since the birth of the internet there has been an explosion of dance and we want to showcase the sort of talent and choreographic innovation displayed online. Z Bo Jackson will smash down the walls of the dance conventions and allow these ‘athletes of God’ to inhabit the stage! (‘Dancers are the Athletes of God’ is a quote from Einstein that I feel is very apt!)”

How has your career experience to date influenced the formation and direction of the new company?

“My choreographic career reflects the broad spectrum and eclectic vision of the Z Bo Jackson Company. Moving from the choreographic challenges of circus choreography to the movement restrictions of a comedy musical extended my creative expectations of myself and my performers and also pushed the boundaries of my theatrical taste. Directing was life changing for me as you need to see the bigger picture and have a distinct tone for the work while also problem solving and working towards opening a show!

“We want to become a platform for dancer, dancers and choreographers and hope to fill the gap between the elite dance companies and the commercial musical theatre productions giving dancers the chance to exploit their range and talents within an emotionally resonating piece of narrative theatre. I’m totally happy to be artistic AND commercial without any compromises or apologies.”

Z Bo Jackson Researsals1 Photo Credit Jack Walker

What kind of dance will be represented in the company and the gala night?

“We will move beyond the dance genres in some numbers and employ free running, acrobatic and aerial performers alongside the elite dancers. The Z Bo performances in the gala are primarily using jazz ballet, commercial fusion and acrobatic choreography. Our high profile guests are experts in their field with Kimberly and Chrissy trained as professional jazz dancers, alongside the urban hip hop locking talents of Flawless sharing the stage with the aesthetic beauty of ballet’s exceptional principal Brandon Lawrence.”

You are launching in Manchester – was launching in the north important to you and the company?

“It is personal and emotional and something I could never have dreamt of when I came to watch Alvin Ailey and the Dance Theatre of Harlem at the Opera House all those years ago!  The Greater Manchester borough of Wigan and Leigh paid for my professional training at a time when the funding system was more generous and the net was spread wider. This feels like coming home (the Mayor of Manchester, Andy Burnham was previously my local MP) and that life has come full circle, back to the most vibrant cultural city in the UK. Manchester gave birth to the Industrial Revolution and this Northern Powerhouse is giving birth to the Z Bo Jackson company. This is the city of the worker bee and if you’ve been through professional dance training then you understand hard work!”

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You have some really big names appearing in the launch gala night. Why did you pick these performers to be involved and what will they bring to the Z Bo Jackson experience?

“They are all extremely talented and honed professionals but they also represent the dual aspect of the Z brand. We are going to showcase celebrity performers alongside unknown new talent, to create a viable commercial dance company.

“I had directed Flawless in Peter Pan and admired their work ethic and fabulous choreography and Kimberly is great friends with the boys having worked together in the past. I taught Chrissy at and I met Brandon at the Move It convention. It’s exciting that they all will be sharing the stage at the iconic Palace Theatre.”

Z Bo Jackson Company 5. Photo Garry Lake @theaboutstudio

What next for the Company?

“We hope that Z will be the go-to brand for dance across all platforms as we will bring in specialised assistants and choreographers in key areas and avoid the limitations of a solo named creative . Continuing script work on the TV series will be the main priority in the weeks following the gala. It’s a big world that needs big ideas to generate new audiences, new revenue streams and potential employment opportunities for the dancers of tomorrow.

“Dance is a universal and international language.”

Book your tickets now for an explosive night of entertainment at the Manchester Palace Theatre on Tuesday 10th September at 7.30pm. Tickets from £13 can be found here.

New dance fusion collective The Z Bo Jackson Company to hold Gala Night in Manchester

Z Bo Jackson Company. Photo Garry Lake @theaboutstudio

Z Bo Jackson, in partnership with the Palace Theatre, Manchester, are proud to announce a gala night of dance – hosted by Kimberly Wyatt – to launch The Z Bo Jackson Company – the UK’s new dance fusion theatre company.

From free runners to hip hop, ballet to street dance, the Z Bo Jackson Company will combine a diverse mix of dance styles with compelling storytelling and magnetic physicality.

The mix of dance styles on display, combined with stunning visuals, means the company’s performances will appeal to dance fans and musical theatre-lovers alike, as well as today’s YouTube and Insta-audiences.

The company launches on Tuesday 10th September with a star-studded gala night of dance at the Palace Theatre, Manchester.

Z Bo Jackson Company 5. Photo Garry Lake @theaboutstudio

Hosted by the amazing Got to Dance judge and Pussycat Doll Kimberly Wyatt, with guest artists Flawless (Britain’s Got Talent and Street Dance 2), ballet star Brandon Lawrence (Principal Dancer with the Birmingham Royal Ballet) and West End star Chrissy Brooke (winner of ITV’s Dance Dance Dance.)

Singer, dancer and choreographer Kimberly Wyatt will perform alongside Flawless in one number, while BRB’s Brandon Lawrence will perform a solo choreographed by the award-winning George Williamson. Chrissy Brooke will perform with the Z Company ensemble.

Innovative and respected choreographer and director Bo Jackson has created the vision behind the thrilling new company and is excited to launch in Manchester at the Palace Theatre.

Opening Night spoke to Bo who said: “Manchester is the birthplace of the Industrial Revolution and as such the perfect international city in which to launch a new dawn in dance for the 21st Century. The gala will provide a taste of Z’s future ambitions and celebrate Manchester’s unique placement as a Northern Powerhouse in theatre and dance.”

Kimberley Wyatt

Host of the gala, Kimberley Wyatt, said: “I’m very excited to be part of this unique evening of dance in Manchester to celebrate the launch of Z Bo Jackson Company. It will be a spectacular night of celebrating all things dance, with street dance superstars Flawless, principal dancer of the Birmingham Royal Ballet Brandon Lawrence and Dance, Dance, Dance Star Chrissy Brooke. Prepare to be amazed!”

Get ready for an explosive night of entertainment at Manchester’s Palace Theatre on Tuesday 10th September at 7.30pm. Tickets from £13 are available here.

Matthew Bourne’s Romeo and Juliet

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Credit: Johan Persson

Reviewed by Matt Forrest

Opening Night verdict ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

It’s a little past 9PM and I’m sat watching a modern-day masterpiece, to many the greatest love story ever told… that’s right Love Island is on ITV 2! I jest of course; I am referring to Matthew Bourne’s Romeo and Juliet.

There have been many productions of William Shakespeare’s most famous play, but few will match the innovative, bold and daring narrative choices Bourne has made in creating his latest ballet.

This is very much a Romeo and Juliet for 2019 with the action taking place in the Verona institute: an asylum packed full of young men and women, made to live separately by a team of guards who have no qualms abusing their power or those in their care.

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Head guard Tybalt, (Dan Wright) has his sights fixed on young inmate Juliet (Cordelia Braithwaite) however she only has eyes for the Verona Institute’s latest arrival Romeo (Paris Fitzpatrick), a young man sent away by his politically ambitious parents. Romeo and Juliet, as we all know, fall in love but at a fatal cost to them both. This is of course a story most of us are as familiar with as we are our own faces, however this production subverts the narrative keeping it fresh, exciting and engaging.

Braithwaite and Fitzpatrick are outstanding as the titular leads: a mixture of grace, vulnerability and passion, fully exemplified by the pair’s penultimate dance. However all cast, including the six local dancers (local dancers will join the tour at local venues) are outstanding and fully deserve the plaudits that will undoubtedly come their way. What strikes you about any Matthew Bourne production is that every person on that stage is a fully fleshed out character and each character shines through. The masked ball sequence has been transformed into a mash up between a school disco and One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, and beautifully typifies the production’s narrative.

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Bourne’s choreography marries perfectly with Sergei Prokofiev’s emotive and powerful score expertly conducted by Dan Jackson. In addition, the use of all white costumes and the white tiled interior gives the production a virginal and surgical quality, which is further intensified when colour is introduced into the narrative.

Bourne has done it again, taking a traditional story and giving it a contemporary twist with references to current politics and a reliance on institutionalising people rather than treating them. However more than any of that, this is a production celebrating youth: a ballet starring young people, for young people, an absolute must-see!

Matthew Bourne’s Romeo and Juliet is on at the Lowry till 15th June. Tickets available here.

 

Interview | Matthew Bourne talks Romeo & Juliet

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Shakespeare’s much-loved tale of star cross’d lovers has inspired the creative community for generations. The tragic and passionate story set against the conflict of two divided families has spawned countless plays, musicals, operas and songs. Now it’s the turn of world-renowned, award-winning choreography Matthew Bourne to interpret this timeless classic in an all new contemporary reimagining of the familiar tale.

We spoke to Matthew Bourne who revealed that Romeo and Juliet was actually inspired by who he would work with rather than just the story. He explained: “I avoided doing it for years as I think it was something everyone expected me to do and it had been done in so many different ways in so many different mediums. I thought it would be hard to find a new way into it which is something I always search for.”

“The thing that really made me want to do it was the opportunity to work with young people. It is a story about them and young love. I got even more excited when it was suggested we cast it with young people and work with young creative associates in all the different departments of the show alongside my usual world-class team. It is all about nurturing them and telling the story.”

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Romeo and Juliet’s plot also lends itself to choreography because of its themes. Matthew said: “Dance is very good at extreme emotions, and Romeo and Juliet as a story is certainly full of those. It has passion, love against the odds, and several extremes of murder and violence. It is all those big emotions. Shakespeare captured it very well. Young people are very hot headed and react very quickly to things.”

“One thing I have tried to bring out is that when young people first fall in love and feel that passion, they really go overboard in many ways. I often think about how classical ballet handles this and how the young girl gets very excited by a kiss on the cheek. Young people today, if they are into each other, are kissing until their mouths are sore. I have tried to capture that intensity.”

“It is also set a little way into the future, but it is not futuristic. It is a time when society is frowning on young people having an excess of feeling and emotion which sends them off on the wrong tracks as far as society is concerned. I got the idea from Arthur Laurents, the co-creator of West Side Story, who was asked why the young people in it are violent and act the way they do? He said they have too much feeling and they need to find a way to release it. I thought that was an interesting way into the story and very true. It made me go in the direction I went in.”

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One of this country’s best-known directors and choreographers, Matthew has been creating dance for over 30 years for musicals, theatres and film as well as his own New Adventures company which boasts a list of hugely successful productions including the iconic Swan Lake, Edward Scissorhands, Red Shoes and Play Without Words.

For Romeo and Juliet, Matthew has once again gathered his trusted creative team around him including associate artistic director Etta Murfitt, set and costume designer Lez Brotherston and lighting designer Paule Constable to add their skill, knowledge and talent to the production to both cushion and push him as he brings his interpretation of the Bard’s work to life. Matthew said: “They know me well enough to question me on what we are doing, whether it works, and they will suggest things too. Sometimes a new creative team are a bit nervous about coming forward with their suggestions when they are working with someone like me who has been in the business for a long time. It is nice to work with a team who don’t have a problem with that.”

Also, part of the team is the composer Terry Davies, another long-term collaborator of Matthew’s who had the job of adapting Prokofiev’s music for this production. He said: “While it is wonderful and big and lush for big opera-house productions and suits that style of production, I wanted something a bit more earthy and a bit more quirky. We nervously went to the Prokofiev Estate and asked them if we could do a new arrangement. It would be very faithful to it and it is only 15 musicians who multi-task and play lots of different instruments. It is quite rare for us to take an orchestra out on tour with us. It is sounding wonderful and I hope the Prokofiev Estate are happy. It is a very recognisable score and that is really the script that we work with.”

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But that ability to feature and engage with young people is as key to this production as the Montagues and the Capulets. At each venue, six fast-emerging dancers (three male and three female) have been chosen to perform on stage alongside the professional company. After a series of auditions around the country, this highly-talented half-dozen gets the opportunity to be part of a world premiere tour surrounded by the professional company. “They are an integral part of the show. They are not token appearances. They’re part of the main company,” he said.

In addition, a team of young associates have been appointed to work within each creative arm of the project including lighting, sound, orchestration and costume. It is happening with the choreography too, with Matthew being joined by Arielle Smith. “She is wonderful. Not only is she a great up and coming talent but I get on with her very well. We have a laugh. With such an enormous age difference between us of around 30 years, she is like a mate and she is incredibly mature for her years in terms of the way she has handled the whole process and there is a lot of her and her work in it. She is not standing by my side watching me work. She is taking rehearsals, creating movement for the show and she has been great. I hear from the other creatives that they are enjoying working with their associates as well. We have all been getting together and thriving with this opportunity,” he said.

It is a similar model to the Lord of the Flies tour where Matthew and his team gave the opportunity for young men who were interested in dance to be part of the professional production alongside his New Adventures company of professional performers which has generated its own success stories. Three of the young Lord of the Flies were cast for Romeo and Juliet, while others are part of his Swan Lake 2019 company. “They have gone through several programmes that we have to nurture young British-trained dancers. We are very proud of those young guys and we hope that this time we will bring some women into the fray that we have nurtured so there will be even more people who started in Lord of the Flies or Romeo and Juliet that will hopefully come back into the company,” said Matthew.

And with four major productions this year plus a Special Award at the Olivier’s for services to dance, 2019 is proving to be quite a year for Matthew. He recalled: “It has been amazing. Swan Lake coming back is always a thrill because it does introduce so many more people to dance and to our company. It always has an incredible effect on audiences around the country and our casts are so devoted to it.”

“In the middle of all that, getting the Olivier Special Award right in the middle of creating a new show was rather good because the award can feel a bit like it is the end of your career and people are saying ‘Thank you, Please Stop.’ It felt great to be in the middle of a new creation like Romeo and Juliet. It was about the past and about the future at the same time.”

And he is feeling very positive about his Shakespeare-inspired production. He admitted: “What started out as being quite a scary project involving so much untested talent and young people that I didn’t know very well has ended up being rather an exciting new show.”

For Matthew and all the team connected with it, the passion and excitement are every bit as strong as the passion that binds the two young characters at the heart of these exciting and explosive performances.

Matthew Bourne’s Romeo and Juliet will be at The Lowry from Tuesday 11 – Saturday 15 June tickets available here.

Pepperland

Reviewed by Nikki Cotter

Opening Night verdict ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

First performed in Liverpool in 2017 to mark the city’s Sgt. Pepper at 50 Festival, Mark Morris’ unique tribute to the iconic album is a joyful explosion of music and movement painted with the most vibrant of colour pallets.

Referencing several of Sgt. Peppers most memorable songs as well as the exuberant Penny Lane, Pepperland is an uplifting celebration with its airy choreography & clever interpretations.

Ethan Iverson’s bold score reimagines each of the much-loved songs; the rich sounds of the piano are accompanied by the electronica of the theremin which marries beautifully with Morris’ playful choreography.

Elizabeth Kutzman’s swinging sixties inspired costumes offer a rainbow of Carnaby St inspired colour while the 17 dancers navigate their way through joyous jives to dreamy hippy vibes. The mood is playful, fun and free.

While there are some pieces which are fairly abstract it’s those with live vocals from Clinton Curtis which really engage the audience. The wit of Morris’ choreography during When I’m 64 clearly an audience favourite as the dancers interpret the out of kilter music with comedic consequence.

Morris’ decision to have his dancers stand and sing along to A Day in the Life is particularly striking with just the right amount of nostalgia.

At just over an hour long Pepperland is the perfect show to bring Sgt. Pepper to vibrant life for modern dance audiences. The fluidity of the choreography a fine example of the quality of Mark Morris’s innovative work while the precision of his dancers will inspire and enthral.

On at the Lowry until Saturday 30th March tickets available here.

Matthew Bourne’s Swan Lake

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Opening Night verdict ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

Reviewer Kate Goerner

Some shows are so iconic that a single image immediately identifies them, and 23 years after the all-male swans first leapt onto the stage in a flurry of feathers, Matthew Bourne’s Swan Lake has certainly earned this status

Taking the classic score by Tchaikovsky, and reimagining it with a male central pairing and corps, Bourne – who directs as well as choreographs – shook up the traditional concept of classical ballet with this piece when it premiered in 1995.

He admits that not everyone in the dance world welcomed the bold move but it was worth every ruffled feather!

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Now updated for 2018, the production has lost non of its impact, and indeed looks and feels as fresh as ever.

The production opens on the bedroom of a restless prince (Dominic North, whose youthful appearance belies his experience in this role). The forced perspective of Lez Brotherston’s Palace set trapping the young royal figuratively and literally – tight bed covers restricting him just as his royal role does.

The society scenes that follow are a witty joy – we even have a royal corgi – with lots of little winks and nods for the audience. There’s so much to see, this is definitely a show that would lend itself to repeat viewings to take everything in.

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We follow the Prince and his mother the Queen – an arch Katrina Lyndon giving off perfect ‘Princess Margaret in The Crown’ vibes – going about their royal business.

Trying to conform, the Prince hooks up with party girl Carrie Willis (a real scene stealer of a performance) and they go on a date to the theatre – there is some ‘classical’ ballet in the show – of sorts!

Things don’t go well and the Prince finds himself in a deserted moonlit city park – when the swans arrive, lead by Will Bozier (authoritative and reminiscent of the great Adam Cooper)

What follows is some seriously strong dancing in all senses of the word, which culminates in the mesmerising pairing of North and Bozier. Seeing the Prince shake off his doubts and realise at that moment he is free to be himself is a genuinely joyous and touching moment.

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The male company dancers as swans are menacing and magnetic – they even hiss – yet are incongruously vulnerable too. The physicality displayed is done justice by Bourne’s unique choreography – all stamps, jumps and bird-like angles.

Act II brings the sexually-charged Palace Ball scene, with Bozier doubling as the Stranger. Leather trousers replace’s Odette’s black tutu, but the edgy menace remains.

The scene gives the whole company a chance to shine – as things whirl towards the chilling conclusion of the ball, and the poignant final scene.

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The Lowry audience were straight on their feet at the end, and indeed probably would have stayed there for a while longer if the curtain hadn’t been brought down. I’m not sure I can recall a warmer and more enthusiastic response to a dance show.

A very special evening watching a very special production. At The Lowry until Saturday December 1 – one not to be missed. Tickets available here.

Northern Ballet | Jane Eyre

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Opening Night verdict ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

Writer Nikki Cotter

Jane Eyre has been reimagined many times, Northern Ballet’s challenge is telling this familiar story without a single word of Charlotte Brontë’s famous text being uttered. A challenge acclaimed choreographer Cathy Marston undoubtedly rises to as the key details of Brontë’s masterpiece unfold in this dynamic and visually stunning production.

Marston focusses firmly on the female characters within the piece; Jane is indisputably the heroine of the production as Abigail Prudames encompasses the passion and determination of the trailblazer through the most exquisite and precise of performances. Tested to the point of self-betrayal before her belief in love and the fierceness of her own integrity saves her, Prudames tells a story with every slight movement she makes, delivering elegance, drama and emotional depth.

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Rochester is brought to life by a brooding Mlindi Kulashe, the chemistry between Prudames and Kulashe is electric, full of passion and intensity. Kulashe capturing the complexity of Rochester’s bruised soul effortlessly, the duo glide from awkward to playful with ease before passion and intensity takes hold.

Adding further layers to the piece is Hannah Bateman’s Bertha Mason, often described as the ‘mad woman in the attic’ she is wild, highly-sexualised and unpredictable as she prowls across the stage barefoot, bathed in red.

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The production feels fresh and inspired as the pace dances through Jane’s life from tragic childhood to complex adulthood, her search for fulfilment never wavering.

An ensemble of male dancers, known as the D-Men, symbolise Jane’s inner demons, creating a clear visual image of the orphan girls emotions and inner turmoil, a superb creative decision which visually portrays the constant tug-of-war between Jane’s intensely passionate feelings and her outer reserve.

Young Jane is portrayed to perfection by Ayami Miyata, agitation and frustration depicted in her defiant, energetic movements.

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The adaptation does absolute justice to Brontë’s work, bringing the novel to effervescent life with incredible skill and creativity.

Phillip Feeney’s emotive score blends a mixture of both original and 19th-century music which compliments the contemporary feel of this piece superbly. Patrick Kinmonth’s set is sparse moving screens, muted in colour allowing the performers to really be at the centre of this piece, all lit to atmospheric perfection by Alastair West’s lighting design.

The fusing of the traditional and the contemporary ensures this is a performance packed with intensity as well as originality, a beautiful and expressive tribute to both Jane herself and author Charlotte Brontë.

On at the Lowry until Saturday 9th June tickets available here.