Two Theatre Shows in Two Weeks!

Message in a Bottle

Message in a Bottle Theatre Programme

Last Saturday my SO went into London to see Kate Prince’s latest dance story, Message in a Bottle at the Peacock Theatre in Holborn. The show how told the story of a family of refugees who have been displaced following civil war in their homeland. This was set against the backdrop of the songs of Sting, including Roxanne, Englishman in New York and of course Message in a Bottle. The story was poignant, current and very moving in places and the music and dance was just fantastic.

The Lion King

Lyceum Theatre

This Saturday just gone, we took my mum and nephew to see the award-winning musical The Lion King. We originally had tickets for August, but it was postponed due to cast and crew members having tested positive for Covid. It was a fabulous, colourful show and of course Elton John’s songs are amazing (The Circle of Life is a particular favourite). Unfortunately, there were a lot of people in the audience fidgeting, looking at phones and generally messing about – the adults, not the children!

It’s been great to get out there and support the arts! Have you been to the theatre lately?

Swinging at the Cotton Club

A few weekends ago my SO and I went to see ‘Swinging at the Cotton Club’ at Watford’s outdoor summer event space, Stage in the Park. We opted to take our own deck chairs, rather than sit on blankets or sit in the area with chairs provided – cheaper tickets!

The park was also hosting the annual Jiveswing Festival that day, so we went along a bit earlier to make sure we caught some of that beforehand. We only got there to catch the end of the festival, but looking at their social media feed, it looks as though it had been a fantastic day.

Stage in the Park advertised lots of food options, so we didn’t eat beforehand. Unfortunately, there really wasn’t anything there, besides some sausage rolls. There was a Caribbean food van that was setting up, but wouldn’t be ready to serve until the interval…no burgers, no Mexican food as promised! And the people running the event didn’t seem to acknowledge the fact that none of the other food vans had materialised either. We ended up walking back across the park to the Jiveswing Festival to grab a burger from a van that was just starting to pack away and head home. Once we were in our seats, the HEAVENS OPENED and it continued to rain for most of the show. It got to the point where some of the dancers were slipping on the stage, which was mopped during the interval… ANYWAY, onto the actual show:

In celebration of the hottest joint in 1920s-30s Harlem, Swinging at the Cotton Club was a variety show of song, Lindy Hop, vintage jazz dance and tap dance, against the live music of Duke Ellington, played by Harry Strutters Hot Rhythm Orchestra. The dancers were from the Lindy Hop Dance Company (which included Jreena Green, who was one of the special guests on BOP Jazz’s ‘Let’s Talk Jazz‘ series last year), and the featured tap dancer was Worthing-based artist Lee Payne, who is part of Tap Dance Research Network UK – I had no idea there would be tap dance in the show because it wasn’t mentioned in the blurb, so that was a pleasant surprise!

Lee did a GREAT job with his exciting tap routines, including one dedicated to Bill ‘Bojangles’ Robinson, and he even pulled out a sand dance later in the show, which was awesome. Vocalist Marlene Hill breezed through classic songs such as ‘Is You is or is You Ain’t My Baby’ (with compere Megs Etherington) and ‘Stormy Weather’, which was particularly apt in the relentless downpour. The Lindy Hoppers did some flashy routines, which were really fun to watch, framed perfectly by the shimmering lights of the background staging and the various costume changes. They also showcased a bit of tap, and I particularly enjoyed their soft shoe routine – I love the fact that tap doesn’t always have to be fast and furious.

The audience was quite small, but very encouraging to the artists and most of us stuck it out in the rain until the end, and actually, the sun did come out in the second act. Many people got up to dance and I got out of my seat to join in with the Shim Sham at the end 🙂

Verdict: It was a great show and I loved the music and dance and atmosphere. I just think I’d rather watch it indoors next time!

 

A Holiday, A Decision & A Festival

Holiday

I can’t believe it’s July already! My SO and I recently had a week’s holiday in Torbay, aka the English Riviera, which basically consists of the seaside towns of Torquay (as in Fawlty Towers), Paignton and the beautiful fishing harbour of Brixham. We had such a great time, and we were really spoiled with the lovely weather (because everyone back home had rain a lot of that week). The week ended up having an Agatha Christie theme because we visited her holiday home Greenway, by the stunning River Dart, we saw an Agatha Christie exhibition at Torquay Museum and some of the set and costumes from ITV’s Poirot (one of my favourite shows ever – although only series 1-8. Not so bothered after it changed production and we lost the comedic relationships between Poirot and Inspector Japp, Hastings and Miss Lemon), we saw her comedy-thriller play Spider’s Web at Paignton Theatre one evening, and while visiting her hometown of Torquay, we also found the site of her childhood home, which is sadly no more. What a week!

Big Decision

Photo by Tim Mossholder on Unsplash

After thinking about it for quite a while, today I closed my soap business that I’ve been running for about 10 years. Although I had been thinking about doing it for a while, Brexit ended up being the catalyst as I had to jump through a number of hoops to submit all my product details to the new government cosmetics portal, and I just knew I was over it already. Although I feel a little sad about it, I also feel like a BIG WEIGHT has been lifted off my shoulders. About 5 years after starting my craft business I got into tap dancing which requires time and dedication, plus I didn’t have much time for writing for fun anymore, so it feels good to have that extra time back! I have a small-scale wholesale customer who I will continue to make for once a month, but I’m just done with all the other stuff.

Tap City

American Tap Dance Foundation’s TAP CITY festival starts on Monday!!! I’m really excited to be able to join in while it’s taking place online. I mean, who’s getting on a flight from London to New York at the moment?? I’ve printed off the schedule, highlighted all the intermediate classes, and added in the class times in GMT (big thanks to my SO for reminding me about that!). I will actually be working Monday and Tuesday (still working from home, so I can join in from 5pm) and then I am on holiday the rest of the week so I can take part live, but my registration actually includes 30 days access to the recordings. Result!

On another note, I am currently working on a mini-bio about a female tap dance legend to share with you shortly. I did start doing research while I was in Devon, but I was too distracted by the sea views!

Quick Bio: Buddy Bradley

 

Photo credit: Brook Bassett 1937

A few months ago I attended an online talk by Annette Walker of Tap Dance Research Network UK, where she was sharing some of her research on the forgotten African American choreographer ‘Buddy Bradley: Choreographing British Film and Theatre’.

He was a pioneer here in the UK, but most people haven’t even heard of him!

Who: Clarence ‘Buddy’ Bradley Epps

Born: Pennsylvania, USA in 1905 and was an orphan by his teens.

Died: 1975 in New York

Family: Married Dorothy, known as ‘Dee’.

Training: Largely self-taught in Tap dance, Charleston and the other jazz dances, influenced by the environment of the Harlem renaissance of New York City.

Known as: The UK’s answer to Busby Berkeley

Career: Being black in the US at that time, he was not credited for much of his early choreography of several Broadway shows. This changed when he was invited to work in the UK on the musical Ever Green in 1933 and decided to settle here. (This is a common theme when you look at the African American performers, like Josephine Baker and Will Gaines, who also found success and credit for their work once they moved to Europe).

Buddy Bradley, Jessie Matthews & Jack Buchanan featured in Picturegoer Weekly 1936

Notable Students: Fred and Adele Astaire, Ruby Keeler, Eleanor Powell. Buddy was the go-to person in London for tap training, and he taught lots of the UK’s big names, including Jack Buchanan, Jessie Matthews, Lionel Blair and the late Bruce Forsythe, John Mills and Roy Castle. He had his own dance studio at 25a New Compton Street and later Denman Street in Soho, London, called the Buddy Bradley School of Stage Dancing.  By 1950 the school had over 500 students!

Teaching style: Apparently he liked his dancers to move across the stage rather than hoof on the spot. He taught in routines, like Henry Le Tang (rather than the ‘watch me and pick it up’ style of some of the masters) and he was known to be a ‘task master’.

Some of his film & stage choreography credits: High Yellow (1932), Ever Green (1934), Radio Parade (1934), A Fire Has Been Arranged (1935), Anything Goes (1935), Brewster’s Millions (1935), Blackbirds (1936), This’ll Make You Whistle (1936), I Can Take It (1939), Full Swing (1942), Something in the Air (1943), It’s Time to Dance (1943), Sauce Piquant (1950)

Quotes: 

People lose sight of the fact that all these modern dance creations…beginning with the Charleston…the Black Bottom, Pickin’ Cotton, Beguine, Rhumba and Carioca, all have African origin.

When I set out to conceive such a dance as the Caranga, I first ask “what is the background?”

Unfortunately, there really isn’t a lot written about him. He wasn’t even mentioned on British television until about thirty years after his death, when the actor John Mills tap danced across the stage on the popular evening talk show Parkinson, and he was asked who taught him to dance – Buddy Bradley!

Buddy is mentioned in the following books that I used as my sources for this post:

  • Bourne, Stephen, Black in the British Frame (2005)
  • Stearns, Marshall & Jean, Jazz Dance: The Story of American Vernacular Dance (1994)
  • Valis Hill, Constance, Tap Dancing America (2014)

Happy New Year

Hello and Happy New Year to you! Well, we’re actually 8 days in now, and things in the world seem crazy at the moment, what with Covid and Trump and Brexit…but I hope the start of the year is going okay for you.

Christmas was very different this time around because we weren’t allowed to meet with other households, so on Christmas day afternoon, after our online church service, a sunshine walk and a massive gammon dinner with all the trimmings, we ended up hosting a 3 and a half hour quiz with my family on Zoom which included rounds on country flags, Strictly Come Dancing and a (particularly difficult) music round, and then we video called my SO’s family straight after. We managed to do lots of walks in the evenings to see the amazing Christmas light displays that people had done on their houses, and we walked around the village in the daytime to try and get some vitamin D. I completed a very tricky 500 piece jigsaw and a couple of books I’ve had on the go. My SO painted the bathroom in Cooking Apple Green (Farrow & Ball) and made chocolate fondants, a baked cheesecake and pastel de natas (Portuguese custard tarts) – I also worked (from home) on the 30th, but who wants to hear about that?

Usually in the run up to Christmas, many of us like going to the theatre (if the bank account allows!) to see a pantomime or another show. Last Winter we saw The Mousetrap in London and the Northern Ballet’s The Nutcracker in Sheffield. This Winter, the theatres are closed, but we were able to get tickets to watch the film It’s a Wonderful Life (1946) at a drive-in in North London (complete with burger…and fries!), and we also got tickets for the Barbican’s live streamed performance of A Dickensian Christmas, which featured beautifully sung Christmas carols and dramatic excerpts from A Christmas Carol, read by actor Kevin Whately (of Inspector Morse, Lewis, etc). Definitely gave us all the Christmas feels.

We made a point of watching movies over the holidays, including Running on Empty (1988), Planes, Trains and Automobiles (1987), North by Northwest (1959), Die Hard (1988), Hercule Poirot’s Christmas (1994) (technically a TV episode, but hey ho) – we did have more Christmassy/wintery movies on the list (Uncle Buck, Home Alone, National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation, Miracle of 34th Street) but we haven’t got around to those yet!

Another thing I did was to spend a little bit of time in the garage working on specific tap steps, something I’ve been trying to do since the summer. This time I concentrated on my ‘Shirley Temple’. A very well-known combination, but one that you can trip up on, or add too many extra bits to. To make it even better, I had some Christmas Jazz songs on in the background! I’m back to tap class next week, and because we’re on lockdown and therefore online-only again, I’m able to join the Thursday afternoon class – a welcome break in the working day. I also start ukulele class online next Friday – I’ll let you know how that goes 🙂

Have a great weekend x

Friday Favourites

Theatre

Last night my colleagues and I went to see the brand new West End production of Prince of Egypt! It lasted an epic 2.5 hours and I didn’t get home until 11.30pm, but the singing was amazing and the staging was atmospheric and effective. Can I just mention that the dancers were fantastic? I didn’t expect that amount of dance, but it featured throughout the storytelling and the top-rate choreography definitely deserves a round of applause. The song When you Believe was a particular highlight, having been made famous by Whitney and Mariah. I would recommend!

Long Weekend

Earlier this month, my SO and I had a long weekend away, Friday to Monday, at a hot tub beach hut retreat by the sea in Devon. We walked the coast path, relaxed in the outdoor hot tub, read books, binge-watched US crime drama and chilled. There was a huge storm raging around us towards the end of the weekend, but we were fairly sheltered. We’ll definitely go back!

Garage Workout

Now that we’ve added to our home workout equipment and reorganised the garage space, my SO and I got out into the garage on Sunday afternoon and did a weight training session. Bluetooth speaker, banging playlist, aerobic warm-up, barbell, kettlebells, dumbbells and stretching. To improve my conditioning for tap dance, I would ideally like to exercise 3 times a week. Let’s see if we can make the weights session a regular thing!

Have a great weekend, whatever you’re doing!

A New Year’s Whodunit

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Happy New Year! I hope the Christmas holidays treated you well?

For me, there was lots of food and family time, plus half a day at work on New Year’s Eve. But I didn’t let office time spoil the week…my SO and I went to the theatre afterwards to see a matinee performance of Agatha Christie’s The Mousetrap – the longest running show in the world! Yes, the 1950s murder mystery show is now in its 68th year. It was very enjoyable, with lots of humour. I expected it to be more serious, like last year’s Witness for the Prosecution. However, as seems to be the case these days, there was someone behind us rustling a popcorn bag throughout act one, opening fizzy drinks and constantly fidgeting, like we were at the cinema, and not a LIVE STAGE SHOW. Anyway, getting back to The Mousetrap, as is tradition, I’m afraid I am unable to tell you whodunit!

I was back at work properly on Monday after lazing around for the best part of two weeks, and I will be returning to my intermediate rhythm tap class tomorrow after a 2 month break. I had signed up to an 11-week writing class at City Lit in Covent Garden, starting next week, but I changed my mind and got a refund, as I really need to buckle down and get some things finished first. That won’t happen if I’m out every Wednesday evening and my list of commitments is longer than before. I keep saying I want to ‘do less’ this year, so instead of committing to an 11-week course, I’m going to look out for one-off workshops instead, and use my free time to actually sit down and write. And practice ukulele!

On a different note, whilst in Covent Garden on New Year’s Eve, I came across dance wear specialist Bloch’s brand new shop, which had moved from its prior location in Drury Lane. I love checking out the tap shoes, so I went downstairs to the shoe area and found the brand new Jason Samuels Smith patent tap shoes:

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drool!

I already have leather versions in white and black, so I probably would go for a different colour in the patent…if I was splashing out on new shoes.

Which ones you do prefer?

Dorrance Dance Review

Last Thursday evening I went to Sadlers Wells, London’s home of dance, to see Dorrance Dance perform a triple bill: Three to One, Jungle Blues and Myelination. Led by Michelle Dorrance, Dorrance Dance are known for their Rhythm Tap as opposed to the typical theatrical showtap style, which made me jump at the chance to see them.

Jungle Blues

A lighthearted, southern, bluesy piece featuring the whole company. Smiling and laid back, with the gangly and awkward Warren Craft sliding around the stage in a slapstick fashion, it was fun to watch.

Three to One

After a short break, this piece began with 3 pairs of legs illuminated by a rectangle of light. Dorrance was in the middle in tap shoes and two barefoot male dancers were either side, doing exactly the same steps; an interesting concept of sound and silence, light and dark. Eventually they were fully lit and Dorrance is thrust into the darkness.

Myelination

This final, longer piece showcased the entire company, including the two breakdancers. The pint-sized B-girl was mesmerising in her contortions and fluidity of movement, if not slightly disturbing at points. I’m thinking of her frenetic movements on the ground, engulfed by red light as Warren Craft plays an electric guitar behind her, like something from The Exorcist (I’ve never seen the film, but I’ve seen enough trailers and silly gifs).

This show was pure rhythm and every sound was hit like a drum. Each dancer had their time to shine, and my favourite was Christopher Broughton’s old school tap solo, which was a nod to dancers such as the Nicholas Brothers, Bill ‘Bojangles’ Robinson and others. A suited Nicholas Van Young’s quick tapping brought to mind Gregory Hines’ close to the floor tap style.

Can I just mention the live jazz band on stage. The singing was exceptional. The guy on the keyboard and occasionally the drums had a voice like velvet. I’d buy his album!

I give the show 4 out of 5 stars for its innovative 21st century interpretation of rhythm tap dance, but it wasn’t as exciting as I was expecting, after rave reviews of previous shows. It was probably a little ‘out of the box’ for me this time.

5 Things in 5 Pictures

Autumn has definitely arrived

Despite the torrential rain (a hangover of Hurricane Lorenzo), this is still my favourite time of year. Well, apart from the clock change. Coats, scarves, boots, red and orange leaves, bonfires, firework displays, squashes and soups!

I joined a new gym! 

On Wednesday lunchtime I went to the council gym near work. Coming from the familiarity of the neat University gym, I had to have a look around the machines before getting started. They seem a bit more fiddly to load weight to, and some of them were broken. The air con wasn’t working properly. The steam room was CLOSED. But it is a busy gym of heavy usage, so not entirely surprising. I’ll be back on Tuesday, and I might even try the swimming pool. If it doesn’t work out, I may quit and return to the Uni gym in its temporary location.

On Wednesday night I had my second Ukulele class

I realised after the first class that I needed to cut my nails so I could press the strings properly! We had a substitute teacher as our tutor was unable to make it this week. The stand-in was very good and even got us onto strumming. We went over chords C, F, A minor, G7 and we even added C7. Lots of information, but I can see how learning a musical instrument (musicality, rhythm, strumming patterns, reading music, timing etc) feeds into tap dancing. Love it.

Watching Ballet on stage is like being in a dream

At the weekend, my SO and I went to Sheffield to visit his sister. On the Saturday evening, she took us to see Northern Ballet, currently celebrating 50 years, perform Cinderella at The Lyceum. The dancing was high quality, and because the story is so familiar (I loved my Ladybird books LOL), it was intriguing to see how they would stage the story. For example, in this production, the Fairy Godmother is a magician, first introduced at a Moscow winter market among other interesting circus performers.  I particularly enjoyed the crystal lake ice skating scene and the Prince’s winter ball. Enchanting, wintery and wonderful!

 

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I couldn’t quit tap if I tried

Last week I thought I’d made my mind up to take a break from rhythm tap classes once this 6 week block is up next week, and come back to it after Christmas, once my Ukulele classes have finished. I thought maybe I’d go swimming on a Thursday lunchtime instead – something that doesn’t require too much brainpower! But then I went to my class and LOVED EVERY MINUTE. I feel like I’m back ‘in the zone’, as Britney would say and I’m learning loads of new intermediate level things and have lots of fun things to work on…

Heartbeat of Home

I hope you’ve had a great summer? I’m just coming to the end of a relaxing two weeks off work…😭

In our first week, my SO and I went to North Devon for a relaxing week by the coast. We stayed in a little apartment in Lynmouth and did lots of walking and visiting National Trust properties and fishing villages. We also did a boat trip to Lundy Island on our last day. Unfortunately the 2 hour voyage there was extremely choppy, our boat rolling around like you wouldn’t believe, to the point that most of the 150+ passengers were using sick bags. Not nice! I just managed to avoid it by pulling my body up the stairs to the fresh air of the upper deck and trying not to look at the rising and falling water, but my poor SO didn’t 🙁

Anyway, it created camaraderie among the passengers and we chatted to people who we kept bumping into later on when wandering around the island. Everyone felt ill! Thankfully the boat trip back to the mainland in the afternoon was so much better (you could eat, talk, take photos and like, walk LOL).

In our second week, we visited Osterley Park National Trust House in West London (making good use of our membership gift!), but the main task of the week was to paint the kitchen walls to finish off our Property Brothers style Farrow and Ball makeover, which began earlier in the summer with painting the cupboards and spraying the handles hammered black. Almost finished! I might do a separate kitchen makeover post at some point.

On Thursday we travelled into London to see the show Heartbeat of Home at the Piccadilly Theatre, to get my latest Irish dance fix! First we had pizza and pasta at Vapiano in Soho, before browsing some of the quirky shops and then heading to the theatre’s top floor bar, for a drink before our matinee performance at 2.30pm.

Heartbeat of Home comes from the producers of the world famous Riverdance, and is a high energy show telling the story of the common ground found by immigrants who travelled to the new world with nothing “but the hopes and histories remembered in the music”, through an amalgamation of dance styles, namely Irish soft shoe and hard shoe dance, Flamenco, Latin, Hip Hop, and Contemporary. I also spotted a bit of tap dance in there! There was an amazing live singer and live musicians on stage, which included the traditional Irish Uilleann Pipes and Bodhran drum. It was fantastic!

The theme of leaving one’s homeland echoed Rhythm of the Dance which I saw at my local theatre recently, but Heartbeat of Home differs with the addition of other dance styles and cultures.

Verdict: Still obsessed with Irish Dance!

The show is at the Piccadilly Theatre, London until 13th October.

Anyway, back to work on Monday – boo!