China Report: Performance Day in Yangzhou

December 31, 2007 at 5:35 pm (Overseas Tour) (, , , )

Yangzhou - photo: Andy Waddington

The day started well with coaches from the hotel for Technicians and Dancers if they wanted but most people walked.

On arrival at 9am the smell of urine from the toilets was truly awful in the back corridor. The heating was turned on at 10.30 and by 11.30 the whole place was pleasantly warm. Class went smoothly. Air fresheners were purchased and liberally spread around the toilets. The sweet smell of ALL JOY filled the corridor and kind of masked the awful smell.

Then it was discovered that the performance tonight was sponsored by the local TV Company. They wanted to record the whole performance. They started bringing in the cables and equipment in the middle of the Technical Rehearsal and in the end we locked them out so Paul Mansfield could see the lighting states on stage without swathes of daylight coming from the open doorway.

Apparently the government own all the TV companies and according to Young, our Promoter, who is as surprised by this as anyone, the big man in the area was coming to see the performance this evening and had instructed the TV company to film it. Young said it would cause huge problems with the government if we say no. We stood our ground and did say No. There followed further heated moments but eventually a compromise was found and we agreed that they could film the audience arriving and the curtain call but none of the performance. Technical Director, Andy Waddington spent the performance sat next to the recording system. The TV Company were told that no cameramen would be allowed in the theatre until the blackout at the end of the performance and then only with handheld cameras. It was made very clear that the performance would be stopped if any filming was attempted. Andy has extensive TV knowledge so there was no chance of anything getting past him.

The coldest room in the theatre was the lighting box where Paul had to wrap up in jumpers and coats. It was 3 or 4 degrees in the box but step through the door and it was 22 degrees. Very baffling.

Today was the last time we will be seeing the Hangzhou Orchestra and we thank them for their efforts. It certainly wasn’t the easiest night’s work for Assistant Music Director, Nigel Gaynor.

The performance went very well. It was Pippa Moore as Butterfly partnered with Chris Hinton Lewis as Pinkerton. They danced extremely well in front of a full house. Trouble was nearly 31/2 foot tall – which is rather large for a 3 year old!

The get out went well starting at 9.45pm and finished at 11.30pm then everybody went back to the hotel for drinks on the 28th floor bar to join the rest of the company drinking and toasting.

Happy New Year to all our readers

Nanjing - photo: Andy Waddington

Tech Rehersal - photo: Andy Waddington

Class - photo: Andy Waddington

Trailers - photo: Andy Waddington

Yangzhou Grand Theatre - photo: Andy Waddington

Yangzhou Grand Theatre lobby - photo: Andy Waddington

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China Report: 30 December from Nathalie Leger’s Perspective

December 31, 2007 at 5:27 pm (Artist's News, Overseas Tour) (, , , )

This was our travelling day from Nanjing to Yangzhou. The coaches took twice as long as they were supposed to but after three weeks we are getting use to it. There always seems to be accidents or busy roads.

So welcome to Yangzhou and another New Century Hotel. Yangzhou is a small city, well for China, 4.5 million people in big development, clean and kind of modern. Visit the city centre and is very busy, noisy, colourful and full of life. Thousands of lights almost hitting you. Then a look around the hotel and the theatre and then we end up in an indoor market. So picturesque. Lots of fruit looking lovely. For 5 bananas it costs 30p.

Then meeting Pippa on the market street we feel we may go for a swim and a sauna. The advert in the hotel looked gorgeous. A proper treatment for body and head at the swimming pool on the third floor. We never found it. Unlucky. It has been this way at every hotel. The treatments do not exist.

Might be more lucky with The Deluxe Sauna. Not lying that is the name of it. Off we go happy and smiley. It took 10 good minutes to wander down the labyrinth ending up in another part of the hotel entrance. Very basic. A woman escorted us to the changing room and I found a locker that I made sure was locked well. She then gave us some plastic slippers which was good because hygiene is not at all good. One big room with 10 showers all open so naked women and babies in plastic baskets, scrubbing, massaging strongly, washing each other and making bath to their children in baskets! Fabulous. we are right there in the intimate life of these women. Never will experience that in my life again. Sauna a tiny room, dark and warm where everyone comes and goes just to put their panties, socks or bras to dry out! Incredible!! From our spot inside the sauna we can look out without being seen!! The life continues…a mother is peeling an apple with her teeth and giving it to her child. Never tell me that Chinese people are dirty! Probably much more clean than European people. They take care of there skin and hair so much. But are these people who are staying at the hotel or do they not have showers at their home? Sad thinking. We are now getting so warm sweating the pollution from our bodies. Feeling good. Now showertime. This is a bit more difficult as they do not want to give us a shower but finally one of them does. Thank you so much. Our locker is OPEN but everything is there even the money.

And finally going back to the room we think that we had a really amazing, Unforgettable moment there feeling almost, really almost, part of them. Thank you to them.

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China Report: Nanjing to Yangzhou

December 30, 2007 at 8:51 pm (Overseas Tour) (, , , , )

90 minute tailback - photo: Andy Waddington

The day started well and we set off from Nanjing on schedule. The coaches with NBT on board headed one way out of the hotel and the coach with the Hangzhou Orchestra headed the other! We were 15mins into the journey just passing through central Nanjing on a flyover Expressway and the whole road was stopped. The tail back lasted for 1 hour 30 minutes. By the time we got to the problem it turned out to be a policeman directing traffic from a side road and holding up the expressway. It turned out that today was a public holiday and so it was very busy traffic wise. To add insult to injury the Orchestra driver phoned up and said they had arrived in Yangzhou whilst we were sitting on the flyover!

We finally arrived at 1.15pm the journey having taken twice as long as it should have (memories of Wuxi to Hangzhou here). The hotel had not allocated rooms as requested but had a least split them into singles, doubles and twins. With the second coach arriving 10 minutes after the first everyone was able to check in really quickly. At 2.30pm the Technical department accompanied by the Interpreters walked the 5 minutes to the Grand Theatre. The theatre is very similar to those in Wuxi and Nanjing. Fortunately they had heeded our warning from the experience in Nanjing and the heating was on even for the get in.

The dancers spent the afternoon out and about but Yangzhou is a very flat place and the wind is biting cold so most of them didn’t stay out for long. The City seems to be part of a tremendous building programme and even more than some of the previous cities. Everybody was delighted that the hotel has a wave machine and themed swimming pool or ‘the place of frolicking water’ as the Chinese would call it. Unfortunately they have closed the facility for the Winter! There is also a Spa with sauna and gym etc or ‘the centre of wellbeing’ along with a tenpin bowling alley.

The Technicians finished at 10pm with all the set in position and lights rigged. All set for an early focus tomorrow and then prepare for class at 12.30.

We were given another piece of aggravating news today. Shanghai has the same movement of vehicles restrictions as Beijing so we need to unload the Containers at Midnight on the day of arrival in Shanghai.

Everybody is slightly nervous after today’s coach journey. With the Wuxi to Hangzhou and Nanjing to Yangzhou journeys both taking twice the estimated time it doesn’t bode well for Yangzhou to Shanghai on Tuesday which is scheduled to take 5 hours!!

Inside the Yangzhou Grand Theatre - photo: Andy Waddington

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China Report: Another Eventful day in China

December 29, 2007 at 6:37 pm (Overseas Tour) (, , , , )

The flying system in the Nijin Theatre was a nightmare to program. We also discovered today that some of the bars could not have in deads put on them. (A dead is marker that tells the flyman when the scenery is at the right level) So quite a few things were flown in and given the in dead by eye. The screens for instance. This seemed like a more major problem than it turned out to be in reality in the performance the system worked perfectly. At lunchtime when the orchestra arrived it was discovered that the orchestra pit would go down but the pit rail would not come up. They asked if we were ok with that and we said No. They were asked to provide a post and chain system or, laughing at the time, some flowers. At 2pm 25 potted plants turned up in terracotta pots. I guess in China you get what you ask for even when you are partly joking. During the technical rehearsal the Lighting technicians were visited in the lighting box by a rat. It climbed in through the window in front of then and then stopped and looked at them working. They all just stared and then it turned tail and went back into the auditorium. They were all in stunned silence until they all said together “was that me or was there a rat”?

The temperature in the theatre when the Technicians arrived this morning was Baltic cold. By the time the dancers arrived it had come up in temperature a little. The entire lighting rig was switched on and class took place. Every 5 minutes heated discussions were taking place with the local staff through our Interpreters Flora and Cathy. The heating was switched on but it barely registered. During the Technical Rehearsal it was discovered that there was a fault with the heating system. The dancers agreed that they would still perform and we promised them that we were doing our best to remedy the situation. By Showtime it was still cold. But the heating system had kicked in properly. But by the end of the show it was still cold. Young, our Promoter apologised profusely and it was made very clear that the next venue in Yangzhou had to be fully heated prior to the dancers arrival for class and if it wasn’t then there would be a possibility that the dancers would say they would not dance that performance. He relayed this to the local partner and we were reassured from both of them that heating would be on and there would be no problem. We shall see!

Just before the Technical Rehearsal, the children arrived to play trouble. They were the largest children that we have ever seen to play the role. Also, the boy took some coaching to do the job. But into costume he went. After the rehearsal he was on the side of stage with his mother and Chun – our Stage Manager. Chun was talking to his mum when the child kept interrupting saying he wanted the toilet. His mum said ok and he pulled his trousers down and weed next to portal 3!!. After mopping it up all was well. He went on fine in the performance until at the final entrance in the doorway he stood there and wet himself. Poor dancers had to carry him around after.

The performance went very well but the audience was very noisy throughout

The get out started at 9.45pm and we shut the doors of the last container at 11.45pm – a record for this tour.

First thing tomorrow we hit the road again to Yangzhou and start the fit up at the Grand Theatre

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China Report: Sitting tight in China

December 29, 2007 at 6:34 pm (General Information, Overseas Tour) (, , , , )

Nigel and I decided not to do the day trip to the Great Wall with the company again, as we’d done that seven years ago. We didn’t have the energy to make our own trip to the more remote part of the wall. After the relaxation and obvious therapeutic benefit of two consecutive days of Chinese medical massage (we had slept like babies) we didn’t want to over-excite our senses by doing something silly like taking a leisurely coach ride. Usually, coach trips in China are pretty exhilarating. But more on that later.

In fact, being a passenger in taxis in the cities is quite an experience too. In the cities, it’s more akin to slow rally driving, and most often the seat belts don’t work or aren’t there. Nobody really follows lanes – they just dash in and out where they think their car might fit, sounding their horns – ta-taaa – as they manoeuvre. It’s as if they’re expecting applause for their feat of spatial acuity. In fact, I’m impressed by their driving skills. In Beijing, for example, most of the road system, which has doubled in area since we were here in 2000, is wide with at least ten lanes, divided carriageways of course. But they don’t really get to drive at thirty miles per hour very often. Even so, the traffic mostly keeps moving. It’s on the whole an efficient and safe way to travel. I’m convinced all those years of travelling on cycles instilled a sense of travel community. I’ve not seen any road rage in the cities. And the traffic is colossal and never-ending. So the taxi we’re in becomes the filling in a bus sandwich, or more often the interloper snaking its way across lanes from right to left, left to right. It doesn’t matter. But whether from good luck or simply more superior road sense, we’ve had no scrapes. I am on the side of superior road sense. I think Chinese drivers in their bustling cities have developed an acute sense of spatial awareness. They are good at squeezing in to that quickly diminishing gap in the traffic. I’ve seen a row of seven cars abreast where there really are just five marked lanes. Throw the few enduring bicyclists and moped riders into the mix and it’s probably best to keep smiling, or laughing nervously so at least your driver thinks you’re enjoying the sights.

Last evening here in Nanjing as Nigel and I were walking to a restaurant we witnessed a car accident. But I was amazed as there was hardly any traffic. Nanjing is much less crowded than Beijing. Obviously two cars went for the same lane. The first one got in the lane and the second one followed too closely and ran up the back of it. Fortunately, it wasn’t a very bad result, although the crash made quite a crunch.

Travelling by coach on the freeways is a different matter and can be counterproductive if you’ve spent good money on a Chinese massage. The coach drivers, like the rest of the motoring fraternity, are audibly keen to get to their destination, sounding the horn every few minutes as they go. The message translates roughly as I’m coming through so get out of my way or don’t even think about changing into my lane. The day we were coaching from Wuxi to Hangzhou the fog was horrendous and had interrupted our journey, the police choosing to close the motorway for an hour and a half. Soon, we understood why when just a few minutes later we took a turning onto a motorway that was still under construction. As we travelled along the road-in-progress, inwardly questioning the wisdom of using this road given the visibility was still alarmingly low, the coach driver picked up speed. He was sounding his horn every minute and more often when he overtook on a dual carriageway into the oncoming traffic lane in the fog – trusting in his intuition or taking absurd risks – which ever way you want to look at it. Soon we passed a shocking sight. The lane that wasn’t finished came to an abrupt halt and at its edge was a huge drop to a ditch. Teetering on that edge was a car that had simply run out of road. I spent most of that trip with my hand over my eyes. Nigel spent most of that trip trying to decide whether he was going to tell the driver to slow down ‘the next time he does something ridiculously dangerous’. But then it became a matter of deciding degrees of ridiculous riskiness. So when the last risk was riskier than the current one … well, I’m sure you get the point. Of course, with the weather it was a difficult journey for the driver – a three-hour drive turned into six hours. So that does take some stamina, and clearly some nerve. I guess we’ll all be looking forward to our next long coach journey?

Diana Solano

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China Report: Fit Up Day in Nanjing

December 28, 2007 at 10:20 pm (General Information, Overseas Tour) (, , , , )

Confusious Temple and Dr.Sun Yat-sen's Mausoleum - photos: chinahighlights.com

The Technicians departed at 8.15am for the Zijin Theatre which was a 45 minute drive across town at that time of day. The theatre just says “YES” to everything. NBT Technicians are totally in control – not quite like Beijing!! Whilst the fit up was taking place, the dancers returned to the adjacent studio for class. Unfortunately the Chinese opera orchestra was rehearsing next door and we had to ask them to leave for a while. The noise level – not the music, was horrendous!! Class went well and the dancers are in good shape for tomorrow’s performance

The Stage Department completed all of their work in record time by 5.45pm. The Electrics Department had focussed the lights and were back at the hotel by 8.30pm with just booms to do tomorrow – probably the quickest fit up we have had so far on this tour and leaving the stage clear for class.

This afternoon, the Dancers had a chance to look around the town. Nanjing is a bustling city and is a mix of western and pure Chinese. Turn a corner and huge neon lit signs are awash, turn again and hanging ducks etc. are there on the street stalls. The hotel is on the outskirts of the inner city and so quite a calming place to be away from the noise and bustle. The cost of things here is significantly cheaper than Beijing. A meal for 3 including 2 beers and a coke cost 76 Yuan (about £5). It was a good meal as well. Getting a taxi in Nanjing is very hit and miss. They don’t seem to like our Western faces too much but when you do get one they are really friendly.

Finally, this hotel has an even more brazen brothel than the last. It’s called COUNT and the publicity material leaves little to the imagination. It has caused great hilarity for all. The ones that dared go to the 5th floor were met by ladies in short maid outfits and a gentleman making gestures that cannot be described here when asked if this was where they could get a beer!!

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China Report: Travel from Beijing to Nanjing

December 27, 2007 at 5:52 pm (Overseas Tour) (, , , )

Jinling Jingyuan Plaza Hotel - photos from hotel website

Rather an early start this morning to get to the airport for the flight to Nanjing. The Poly Plaza hotel were somewhat particular with their check out procedures but all was achieved on schedule. The flight was uneventful and check in to the Jinling Jingyuan Plaza Hotel went very smoothly with the hotel having allocated the rooms before we arrived and in accordance with our Rooming List.

As the Company have had 3 days off over Christmas, it was vital that they got back into training. Although the stage of the Zijin Theatre is not available to us until 28 December, there is a very good studio in a building adjacent to the theatre with decent floor, barres and a piano.

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China Report: Dancer, Martha Leebolt shares her experience of Beijing

December 27, 2007 at 5:39 pm (Artist's News, Overseas Tour) (, , , , )

Traditional pass-time in Beijing park - Photo by Neil G Jarman

After a very hectic schedule of planes, buses, unpacking, class, rehearsals, shows etc we were finally able to ‘move into’ our hotel in Beijing. After 1 day of Class and 3 days of performances we are all ready to see some sights. Although I did the main attractions of China before, I was eager to go again to really look and take in the scenery, rather than just click on my camera.

On the 24th we got into a taxi and went off to the Summer Palace. It was even more beautiful than I remembered. The temples, small and large, were all being repainted (probably because of the Olympics) in very bright colours, mostly blue, gold and red. The prettiest Temple was built for one of the Empress Cixis’ birthdays. Inside, were housed many of her presents ranging from a big clock made of Ivory to beautiful statues of peacocks. Her throne was made of dark wood with gold cushions and pillows. Everyone’s favourite part and probably most impressive is the life size marble boat resting in the frozen lake. Unfortunately the lake was not as frozen as last time!! It was a wonderful day but my toes were freezing.

Next the 25th – Christmas day. After a pretty crowded and stressful tube ride, which cost 2 Yuan one way – 14p, we found the Lama Temple. The street leading up to the entrance is lined with about 100 stalls of people selling incense to be used inside. The Lama Temple is made up of about 40 smaller temples all housing different Buddha. The Chinese people come here to give thanks to them for example ‘The Buddha of Medicine’ and ‘The Buddha of past, future and present. Outside the temples are large pots which people burn their incense in while praying. There is constant scent of Lavender, Jasmine and Rose in the whole area. Each temple is different, some housing 3 Buddha, some housing 20. At the base of the statues there are offerings of incense that have not been burned and fruit. Everywhere you look there are people constantly kneeling and standing up. They chant with their hands in prayer which are positioned at the forehead. The finale of the temple is a Buddha that stands 30’ tall. On the way out we saw one of the Dali Lama’s thrones and I bought my own laughing Buddha.

Next we went to the Temple of Confucius. It was under a bit of construction but we were still able to see where Emperor Qinglong would give important speeches. It was very impressive; painted gold with very detailed engravings, but like most Chinese relics, the buildings they stand in are the most beautiful. The ceilings are always decorated with intricate patterns and there is never a bare space on the walls.

Lastly, The Great Wall of China – Seems ridiculous to say it is my favourite, it’s just a wall, but it really is amazing. On a clear day there is no end of it in sight. We returned to the same place as on the last visit but turned left instead of right this time. It was a bit steeper this way, so we were pretty out of breath within the first 5 minutes. This time there were many more vendors hoping to sell you anything and everything. It is an incredible place that gives me a thrill when I think about being on one of the Seven Wonders of the World. BUT can you believe there is a Starbucks at the entrance?

Lama Temple - Photo by Neil G Jarman

Lama Temple - Photo by Neil G Jarman

Lama Temple - Photo by Neil G Jarman

Lama Temple - Photo by Neil G Jarman

Temple of Heaven - Photo by Neil G Jarman

Temple of Heaven - Photo by Neil G Jarman

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China Report: Technical Experiences in Beijing

December 27, 2007 at 5:21 pm (General Information, Overseas Tour) (, , , , )

Touring through China is a challenge and it was never going to be easy but with this being my second time on tour with NBT in China, I thought it would be easier. In some ways it certainly has been. The technical staff we have on this tour have been excellent and have needed to be. Their patience has been stretched a couple of times in each venue. This is mainly due to the fact that each venue has different ways of doing things and very different systems in place. The Poly Theatre in Beijing was a challenge. From the moment we discovered that there was an access to the City issue with the containers to the no gaffa tape on stage rule. At present no trucks at all are allowed into Beijing until midnight and have to clear the City limits by 6am. As Beijing is a major building site at present you can imagine the queues at the City limits waiting for the clock to strike midnight. At this point it must be like a Le Mans start. By 12.30am long convoys of trucks wend their way into the city as in some kind of protest akin to the fuel tax protests in the UK a few years ago. By 1am on 19/20 December the first of our containers arrived and backed into the loading dock under the supervision of the local police and security/army guards at the theatre. Unloading took about 45 minutes with the help of a team of 10 guys hired in by the promoter. With the doors shut on the empty container we thought it wouldn’t be long before the second container took its place in the dock. 10 minutes later nothing had moved. What I discovered walking to the front of the truck and speaking with our translator Flora, an absolute angel, was that the driver had been caught smoking in the dock by the security/army guard. The driver was being chastised beyond belief and his boss was being instructed that the driver must be punished. Until this was all agreed nothing was moving. After a further 20 minutes the truck finally moved and I was told that an agreement with the driver’s boss had been reached but I couldn’t find out what it was. The second trailer smoked its way into the car park and tried to back into the dock area. Alas the skill needed was beyond the driver so the container was unpacked there in the car park and another 20 metres of distance was added to the route in. Finally at 3.15 am we went upstairs and retired to our rooms grateful that the theatre and hotel were in the same complex.

In the morning breakfast was a cheery affair looking forward to working in the theatre we had seen the night before. On entering the theatre we were told that no gaffa tape could be used on the Korean oak floor that we were told had come from Russia. From that point on it seemed to be that they had learnt one word of English and that was the word ‘NO’ Even when going through the translator the answer seemed to be always ‘NO’. But if we really pushed and pushed for what we required and kept smiling then eventually it seemed to turn up. Well most of the time. The biggest issue was the petal drop in Act 2. They had not seen this done before and were not happy with the petals falling past the lighting bar. No reasoning or even myself telling them we had done over 250 performances of the production and never had there been an issue of the theatre catching fire seemed to wash with them. My final offer to buy them a new theatre if the effect caused the building to burn down did not even come close. We had to move the lighting bar downstage and the petal bag had to move upstage. They seemed happy with that. But after the 1st show they insisted we bring in the lighting bar and check for stray petals. Only eight petals had the gaul to land on the lighting equipment but each one was carefully extracted before we could fly the bar out again.

Joe Marchant, our Flyman/Rigger, had a nightmare of a day trying to get the flying system working safely. The Chinese flyman had never been shown the safe way of working the system and not wishing to lose face they refused to listen to Joe’s instruction. This caused a few heated debates through Flora. Meanwhile on stage Steven Wilkins (Wilky), our Chief Stage Technician for the China Tour, was being told we could not screw into the floor and not use certain flying bars for scenery. Thanks to the Chinese lighting people we have touring with us, lighting seemed to be going smoothly. Rich, Paul, Martin and Chris (Lighting Team) were all put under various amounts of pressure through the day but mainly the pressure of ‘NO’ was mainly kept to Wilky, Joe, Nic and Paul. (Stage Team)

Technical team discuss plans for the get in - Photo by Neil G Jarman

On the first day we all finished at 10pm. We lost around 3 hours of the day having to argue and discuss each thing we wanted to do. The second day started in much the same way with ‘NO’ being the order of the day. The electric flying bars were strictly under the control of the in house personnel and it was hit and miss whether we got what we asked for. By 11am the focus started and the stage work was coming to an end. By 12.30 the main focus of the lights was complete and we had only the side lights to do. Class then took place on stage. A welcome break for the technical crew. Back at 2pm we beavered on and the Technical Rehearsal went quite smoothly. Just before the start of the Technical though, the person in charge of the electric flying handed the reins over to Martin. Martin had never seen or operated the system before and it was amazing that the rehearsal went so well.

To add other things into the mix we were not allowed to go anywhere with out a pass. Not even if we had made friends with the guard and he knew us. We were not allowed to sit in the auditorium seats at all and the drinks machine had given up as well.

The first night and subsequent shows went very well indeed. The Technical staff on tour have been pushed to the edge and have been amazing.

The get out started well until we caught them inch by inch peeling back our dance tape to make sure that we had not damaged the floor. I know you have an image in your head of a highly polished oak floor and you are wondering why I am going on about this so much. But let me dispel this image and replace it with an image of a painted black extremely well -used floor that has had the paint ripped from it in various places. I hope you can see the frustration.

The containers were packed and all was finished by 3am. No driver getting punished this time although we still had to wait for the containers to arrive!

Having had a couple of days off I can look back and smile and make light of what the Tech team was put through. But things like this are a small part of what happens when we enter a new venue. We never know what we are going to face and only a great deal of experience and teamwork gets us through.

In the future I would hope that we in the UK can bring Chinese technicians over from the larger theatres and let them see how we work in the UK. I believe for the long term future of the theatres in China and the welfare and mental state of the Technicians arriving with companies from the West it would be very fruitful.

Nanjing, Yangzhou and Shanghai here we come.

Andy Waddington – Technical Director

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China Report: Christmas Celebrations

December 26, 2007 at 12:46 pm (Overseas Tour) (, , , , )

Parting view of the Poly Theatre - Photo by Neil G Jarman

The party has continued over 25 and 26 December. It seems there was a wide variety of options for Christmas lunch from traditional turkey and Christmas pudding (although not quite the same as at home) to the delights of Raffles’ take on turkey to Tepanyaki. All tastes were catered for.

Another interesting adventure took place before lunch!! Andy Waddington, Technical Director, managed to persuade the barrier attendants at the new National Grand Theatre, that we were very important guests from the UK and needed to have a look at this stunning new arts complex. The design is absolutely amazing with entry under a lake and 3 auditoria housed within a glass dome! We were given unprecedented freedom to wander around and had a good look inside the Opera and Drama Theatres. Unfortunately the Concert Hall was locked so we were unable to get a look. This is probably the finest arts building we have ever seen and we have made it very clear to Young, our Promoter, that we will only ever perform in that venue on future visits to Beijing!!

The evening of 25 December was designated the official Christmas party and was attended by the whole Company from dancers to musicians to technicians – everyone except Yi Song who had taken the opportunity to visit his family. A great time was had by all with an excellent buffet and plenty to drink. Secret Santa, arranged by Michela and Lori, was a triumph and added to the fun of the evening.

Tisch, Company Manager, arranged a trip to the Great Wall on 26 December which was attended by some of the Company. As this is our third visit to China, some people felt that another opportunity for shopping was more pressing than seeing the Wall again and others just didn’t make it out of bed after the partying from Christmas night!!

This evening should be a little more subdued with an early start to the airport tomorrow for the flight to Nanjing. The next week will be pretty busy with performances in 3 cities and will be very hard work for the technicians.

Everybody has had a great time in Beijing and is pleased that we were able to spend Christmas here but all are now looking forward to moving on and finding out what the cities of Nanjing and Yangzhou have to offer.

 Photo by Neil G Jarman

Photo by Neil G Jarman

Photo by Neil G Jarman

Photo by Neil G Jarman

Photo by Neil G Jarman

Photo by Neil G Jarman

Photo by Neil G Jarman

Photo by Neil G Jarman

Photo by Neil G Jarman

Photo by Neil G Jarman

Photo by Neil G Jarman

Photo by Neil G Jarman

Photo by Neil G Jarman

Photo by Neil G Jarman

Photo by Neil G Jarman

Photo by Neil G Jarman

Photo by Neil G Jarman

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China Report: Christmas Greetings (Video)

December 26, 2007 at 12:44 pm (General Information, Overseas Tour) (, , , , )

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China Report: David Nixon’s Impressions of Beijing and China

December 24, 2007 at 5:53 pm (Artist's News, Overseas Tour) (, , , , )

In the foyer of the Poly Theatre - Photo by Neil G Jarman

After managing to miss the China tour last time, I finally did the impossible and arrived in Beijing!! All of my pre-conceptions of this majestic City were blown away on the taxi journey from the airport. On one hand is sadly gone the image of ancient China and even streets filled with bicycles conjured up by books and movies and in it’s stead a Kaleidoscope of towering buildings with what seems to be an endless skyline of skeletons awaiting their skins of yet more to come shapes of monstrous proportions.

In roaming around the streets, I have been overwhelmed by the impression of expansive space and size. This is without question a place conceived to impress, but simultaneously to be home to millions!

The people, though, maintaining some very different cultural manners, always have a ready and warm smile and I found myself often feeling more among friends than sometimes at home.

On my first evening, two young University Lecturers came up to me on the street and started speaking English. Their smiles, enthusiasm and kind words, they remarked that I looked very ‘cool’ and was maybe an FBI Agent! What can I say? An old man needs a few compliments to live on. I immediately dropped my defences and ended up with them in a Tea House learning how to drink Chinese Tea properly. It was a totally unexpected but delightful entry into this new China.

The day after I arrived, I taught Company Training and was met by dancers that perhaps had visions of sightseeing rather than dancing in their heads. Class taught, they were free for the rest of the day while I went on a trip to the Great Wall of China arranged by Mark Skipper and Neil Jarman.

Again, I was unprepared for the sight to be seen. The wall in itself is both an engineering feat and a work of Art so intimately following the curves of the mountains and masking the true effort it takes to mount the Wall. I was also taken with the unusual landscape. Mounds of hills like scoops of ice cream covering the horizon as far as the eye can see. It was a memorable trip that I will always treasure.

So, on to work. The Technical Rehearsal in the very large Poly Theatre went very well and was followed by a good performance. Keiko continues to take command of this role and her light and expressive dancing is always beautiful. It was the first time for me to see Kenny in the role of Pinkerton and I was pleased to see just how well suited he is to the part. Nigel Gaynor did a very good job with the orchestra, which for the most part sounded good. The crew did a super job of getting the show to look right so I was very pleased. The audience was interesting – quieter than I had expected. They do not like intermissions and even though there was little reaction during the performance, they responded warmly at the end. This is a young art form here and does not quite sit comfortably with them yet but I applaud their willingness to embrace a new culture. I was very pleased to see the equal numbers of men and women in the audience and I was appreciative that they do not have the ridiculous male pre-conceptions of ballet which we struggle with in the West.

Saturday night was Chiaki’s Beijing performance with Darren. Although Chiaki had her official farewell performance in Bradford in October, she graciously agreed to perform Butterfly in China to help ensure its success. This was probably the last time I will see Chiaki dance. As is always true at these moments, one hopes for the performance that will create an enduring memory. The Company and Orchestra were brilliant in the first act and Darren partnered Chiaki through the pas de deux with flawless precision and sensitivity. Chiaki gave herself totally and united by Nigel masterly caressing the on stage movement with a perfect musical partnership. I was transported and it was utterly magical. This would have been sufficient but it was Chiaki’s night and with the wonderful support of the cast she danced with a total freedom and possession of the role. A memory is now in my possession to take through my life’s journey.

Sunday night was the final performance in Beijing and closed the dance festival. The Company has three days off over Christmas but that story will have to be told by someone else!!

Christmas Eve Supper - Photo by Neil G Jarman

Photo by Martha Leebolt

Photo by Martha Leebolt

Photo by Martha Leebolt

Photo by Chiaki or Chun

Photo by Chiaki or Chun

Photo by Chiaki or Chun

Photo by Chiaki or Chun

Photo by Chiaki or Chun

Photo by Chiaki or Chun

Photo by Chiaki or Chun

Photo by Chiaki or Chun

Photo by Chiaki or Chun

Photo by Chiaki or Chun

Photo by Chiaki or Chun

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China Report: The Great Wall (Video)

December 24, 2007 at 5:28 pm (General Information, Overseas Tour)

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China Report: Class in Beijing (Video)

December 23, 2007 at 4:10 pm (General Information, Overseas Tour) (, , , , )

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China Report: Keiko and Hiro (Video)

December 23, 2007 at 4:09 pm (General Information, Overseas Tour) (, , , , )

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China Report: Final Performance in Beijing

December 23, 2007 at 4:06 pm (General Information, Overseas Tour) (, , , , )

Mr Young, Promoter and Mark Skipper, CEO - Photo by Neil G Jarman

The Company spent the early part of the day continuing the journey around the famous sites that Beijing has to offer. The Forbidden City and Summer Palace seem to be quite popular. All too soon it was time to go to the theatre for the day’s preparation for the performance. This afternoon was David Nixon’s last class with the Company before he leaves Beijing. A video and selection of photographs from class accompany this report. David also spent some time rehearsing Pippa Moore and Chris Hinton-Lewis who will be dancing Butterfly and Pinkerton together for the first time in Yangzhou on 31 December.

Not only was this our final performance in Beijing but also the closing performance of the 5th Beijing International Dance Festival. The performance, with Keiko and Kenny dancing Butterfly and Pinkerton, was very much appreciated by the audience and we were honoured by the presence of senior Government figures. Young, our Promoter, was delighted with the Beijing season and we all look forward to 3 days off for Christmas before we start out journey again to Nanjing on 27th. Watch this space for David Nixon’s thoughts on his visit to Beijing tomorrow (24 December) and share moments from the NBT Christmas Party on 25 December.

Oh, check out the menu in one of the hotel’s restaurants – our Christmas Lunch?

Poly Theatre

Giant poster costs thousands of Yuan per day to display

Keiko and Michela in class - Photo by Neil G Jarman

Company in Class

Company in Class

Company in Class - Photo by Neil G Jarman

Company in Class

Company in Class

Company in Class - Photo by Neil G Jarman

Company in Class

Auditorium of Poly Theatre

Drum dance - Photo by Neil G Jarman

Drum dance

Arrival of Butterfly

Entrance of wedding party

Bonze awaiting his entrance - Photo by Neil G Jarman

Parasols

Theatre was full of flowers for closing ceremony

The famous menu - Photo by Neil G Jarman

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China Report: Integrated Paralympics Dance Project, Beijing 2007

December 22, 2007 at 9:59 am (Learning & Access, Overseas Tour) (, , , , , , )

Project group - Photo by Neil G Jarman

The Integrated Paralympics Dance Project – Young Advocates Programme, Developing the Paralympic Spirit brought together a large group of partners. – Working in partnership with Northern Ballet Theatre were the British Council (the cultural and education section of the British Embassy) and the China Disabled Persons Federation. This project is the first in a programme of work developing the skills of the Beijing Young Advocates who will meet with their international counterparts in September 2008 at the start of the Paralympics in Beijing.

Whilst the Company was performing in Wuxi and Hangzhou, our Learning and Access Department were busy working on a very special project in Beijing

On Friday 14 December we met with Junhong from the British Council who showed us around the venue were we would be delivering the workshops. She introduced us to some of the participants and representatives from the different organisations who have been involved in bringing the project together in China. After a long journey it was great to see that all our arrangements had been put into place and everything was ready for starting work the following Monday.

This left the weekend for a little team building exercise of sightseeing, very kindly our interpreter Zhili showed us around Beijing – Tiananmen Square, the Forbidden City, the Royal Gardens, traditional markets and finished off with the Temple of Heaven. On Sunday we had a stroll around a Chinese Antique Market and got very good at bartering with the stall vendors!

Monday morning back to work, after a very busy Press Launch we started to create movement with the group and develop ideas for the final presentation on Friday afternoon. It was great to work with such enthusiastic young adults who are willing to join in and learn new skills.

Working with 20 young adults with and without disabilities, the group worked to create a piece of dance that was performed at the end of the week and through the process developed communication, confidence, leadership and team working skills.

Musician Bill - Photo by Neil G Jarman

Class

Opening Speach

Student dancers - Photo by Neil G Jarman

Performance

Closing Scene

Paperwork - Photo by Neil G Jarman

Waiting in the 'wings'

Certificates for each participant

Selina Mcgonagle, Director of Learning and Access with interpreter and Dr Rebecca Nadin of the British Council - Photo by Neil G Jarman

Caroline Burn with the group - Photo by Neil G Jarman

Group photo

Caroline posing with a student - Photo by Neil G Jarman

Zhilli, Sophie, Bill and Caroline in front of the Forbidden City - Photo by Selina Mcgonagle

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China Report: First Performance in Beijing

December 21, 2007 at 4:55 pm (Overseas Tour) (, , , , )

Martin, Darren, Yi, Pippa and Lori assisted with guests at the sponsor's evening - Photo by Neil G Jarman

Per diem call first thing this morning. The Company received their allowances for the rest of the tour (2 weeks tomorrow we come home) A challenging morning for the Technical Department with every operation under minute scrutiny but somehow they managed to get everything finished in time for class at 12.30. (We will share some of the idiosyncrasies at a later date). The Technical Rehearsal went well. Tonight was our second sponsor’s evening – this time hosted by Leeds City Council. The event took place in a very lavish conference room and was attended by around 150 people including some Government Vice- Ministers. The Lord Mayor of Leeds was once again in attendance and the other speaker was Chris Bailey, Dean of the Arts Faculty at Leeds Met University. Chris had quite a traumatic journey to China. His original flight was cancelled due to fog and he therefore arrived much later than planned but then his luggage went missing, his Interpreter was in Shanghai and the traffic was unbelievable when he travelled across the City to the Poly Theatre. Everything came out well in the end and the Company gave a great opening performance for our Beijing season. The performace was very well received by the audience. 2 more to go in Beijing before we have 3 days off to celebrate Christmas.

Piles of Chinese Yuan for the Per Diems

Conference Centre at the Poly Plaza - Photo by Neil G Jarman

Chris Bailey, Leeds Metropolitan University

Arrival of Butterfly - Photo by Neil G Jarman

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China Report: Fitup day in Beijing

December 20, 2007 at 3:36 pm (General Information, Overseas Tour) (, , , , , )

The Great Wall of China - Photo by Neil G Jarman

David Nixon taught class for the Dancers for the first time in 10 days so a bit of a shock to the system but essential to get them up to form for the opening night in Beijing tomorrow. As always the day was challenging. No lights on stage for class and no power for the electric piano. Eventually we found a cleaner’s socket in the auditorium and class got underway but not before David had to sing the first few exercises. Although David (and his wife Yoko Ichino) toured the world as dancers, this is his first ever visit to China. His verdict “I’m really glad I came” We took him to the Great Wall today which he found a very exciting , although strenuous experience. (Watch this space for David’s account of his visit to Beijing) Whilst we were away, the fit up continued in the Poly Theatre – again with its challenges but all will be fine for tomorrow’s opening.

The Great Wall of China

The Olympics meets the Great Wall - Photo by Neil G Jarman

The Great Wall of China

David Nixon and Mark Skipper at the Great Wall - Photo by Neil G Jarman

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The Nutcracker Story: The Southbank Show

December 20, 2007 at 2:16 pm (Company News, General Information) (, , )

Northern Ballet Theatre and David Nixon feature in The South Bank Show’s forthcoming programme about The Nutcracker … 

The Nutcracker Story: The South Bank Show 
Wednesday 26 December, 11.15pm – 12.15am, ITV 1

Margy Kinmouth’s film examines the creation of Tchaikovsky’s ballet based on Hoffman’s dark fairy tale, and visits the Mariinsky Theatre in Russia where it premiered in 1892 only to remain unperformed for more than half a century. Plus, a preview of Andrei Konchalovsky’s $80million movie version due for release in late 2008.

We hope you will tune in.
Read ITV’s media release here.

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China Report: First day in Beijing

December 19, 2007 at 3:51 pm (General Information, Overseas Tour) (, , , )

Poly Plaza - Hotel and theatre complex - Photo by Neil G Jarman

Not too much to report today. The Company had the day off and many spent the time visiting the famous landmarks such as Tiananmen Square and the Forbidden City. The Technicians made a visit to the Poly Theatre to check things out ready for the fit up tomorrow. The first useful piece of news was that the containers are only permitted into the City between 12.00am and 6am so the planned get in at 9am tomorrow would not be possible and the crew would have to go at midnight to unload. Useful time was spent working out where the scenery would hang and dealing with the fact that huge acoustic ceilings take out large sections of the grid and make the hanging plot quite tricky. It is further complicated as some of the flying is manual and some computerised and operated from opposite sides of the stage. Our Flyman, Joe, cannot be in both places at once. As always these challenges will be overcome. The Promoter is also unable to find a venue for class so the Technicians will lay the floor and put out the barres on stage before they finish tonight and delay the fit up until after class. Mr Nixon has now arrived in Beijing.

Forthcoming attractions at Poly Theatre

Relentless traffic around the theatre complex - Photo by Neil G Jarman

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Integrated Paralympics Dance Project, Beijing 2007

December 18, 2007 at 5:05 pm (Learning & Access, Overseas Tour) (, , , , , , )

Learning and Access 

On Friday we met with Junhong from the British Council who showed us around the venue were we would be delivering the workshops.  She introduced us to some of the participants and representatives from the different organisations who have been involved in bringing the project together in China.  After a long journey it was great to see that all our arrangements had been put into place and everything was ready for starting work on the Monday.

China Workshop Participants

This left the weekend for a little team building exercise of sight seeing; very kindly our interpretor Zhili showed us around Beijing, Tijianamen Square, the Forbidden City, the Royal Gardens, traditional markets and finishing off with the Temple of Heaven.  On Sunday we had a stroll around a Chinese Antique Market and got very good at bartering with the stall vendors! 

Monday morning back to work, after a very busy press launch we started to create movement with the group and develop ideas for the final presentation on Friday afternoon.  It is great to work with such enthusiastic young adults who are willing to join in and learn new skills.   

Info about the project; 

Integrated Paralympics Dance Project, Young Advocates Programme, Developing the Paralympic Spirit.  Working in partnership with Northern Ballet Theatre, the British Council (the cultural and education section of the British Embassy) and the China Disabled Persons Federation.  This project is the first in a programme of work developing the skills of the Beijing Young Advocates who will meet with their international counterparts in September 2008 at the start of the Paralympics in Beijing. 

Working with 20 young adults with and without disabilities, the group will be creating a piece of dance that will be performed at the end of the week and through the process develop communication, confidence, leadership and teamwork skills. 

Selina McGonagle
Director of Learning & Access, NBT

  The L&A team in Tijianamen Square

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China Report: Dancer, Nathalie Leger, shares her day travelling from Hangzhou to Beijing

December 18, 2007 at 3:12 pm (Artist's News, Overseas Tour) (, , , , , , , )

Sebastian and Sarah. Photography by Neil G Jarman

6.45am Wake up alarm, a bit tired this morning. Leaving 8.30am Hangzhou to Beijing. People enjoying last breakfast here. Mr Wheeler in good form this morning! Make me laugh! Check out all fine and bye bye Hangzhou. Dancers, Technicians and others tired but excited to go to the Capital. Will be great to see how things are changing for the Olympic Games coming up. Plus, will be able to settle down for 9 days count down to Christmas day! Minus 7 days!! Yeah! Finally, will open suitcases, hang out clothes properly, laundry time!!! Complete free day tomorrow in Beijing GREAT DAY!
8.30am 2 Coaches. We are missing one dancer! Did anyone went to the Loo last minute! Tisch, Company Manager, needs to count again! Now we have one too many!? Well better this way – Let’s Go
Weather is still fine – not even cold. Lot of rain these past few days but not a big change from England! Trip to Airport give you time to look around! The poverty of people is visible; dirt and pollution are making your vision unclear; laundry outside balcony are turning gray; and suddenly you can see a full duck or fish drying outside on this unhealthy air!! (getting hungry) but one thing I love and give me a smile: it’s the fashion style – never one colour managing the other! A green shirt with red pants!!! Not so Chanel style. Passing a river and seeing little pagodas floating! Lovely! But then I realised how everybody is so quiet today – reading listening to music or looking through the window like me
10.00 amCheck in Airport Hangzhou. Quicker than Manchester and Paris. Who would think that? Waiting for boarding but Ms Sibson and Mr Goldsmith are called to the Check in again? Something wrong in the suitcase? They are back – just the camera battery from Darren’s suitcase. Did look like a kind of bomb on the screen! Good laugh!
11.15am Boarding. Airbus 300 – enormous plane! Pack of people and NBT. Two halves flying – smells are moving around….. and honestly not the most enjoyable one! ( not really Armani perfume)
1.50am – Plane arrive Beijing. Long way from Terminal so bus ride for miles it seems. Long wait for baggage for some reason. Darren’s bag does not arrive – have they decided it is security risk! Then – last bag – it arrives so all is well. Journey to Poly Plaza Hotel not too long but check in takes long time. Some Principal dancers have Press Conference and not able to change as rooms not all ready.
4.10pm Press Conference goes ok! Lots of journalists asking questions. Once it is over – everybody free to enjoy the rest of the day plus free day tomorrow ! Poly Plaza hotel great so everybody happy!!

Sebastian and Toby

Long queue to check-in

The press reception

Interpreted<br>  r Jackie and Victoria

Mark, Keiko and Kenny

the press reception introduces Double Troubles

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NBT Auditions 2008

December 18, 2007 at 11:52 am (Auditions, Vacancies) (, , , , )

NBT Auditions Advert

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China Report: Second Performance in Hangzhou

December 17, 2007 at 5:04 pm (General Information, Overseas Tour) (, , , , , )

Chiaki Nagao. Photography by Neil G Jarman

The Company had some free time today until we went to the theatre at 2pm for class. This evening’s performance was the first of three events for our sponsors and was hosted by Yorkshire Forward. The event was attended by the Lord Mayor of Leeds, Simon Hill from Yorkshire Forward and Prof. Stephen Parkinson from Leeds Met University all of who spoke at the pre-performance event. We did encounter one or two issues with the flying system this evening (or it might have been the operators) but at one point the computer console was surrounded by 12 Chinese Technicians!. We had a slightly larger audience than last night and the performance seemed to be appreciated. Yi Song danced the role of The Bonze/Yamadori/Samurai for the first time this evening.

Professor Steven Parkinson speaking of collaboration between Hangzhou and Leeds, also celebrated his 30th visit to the region

Guests of Yorkshire Forwards and Leeds Met listen to the speaches

Mark Skipper,NBT's CEO, intruduces Dan d'Andrade to Brian Cleasby, Mayor of Leeds - photo: Neil G Jarman

Final curtain call for Hangzhou

Chiaki and Darren with 'Trouble' - photo: Neil G jarman

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Delegation stepping out on a China Mission

December 17, 2007 at 10:34 am (Company News, Friends News, Marketing and PR News, Overseas Tour) (, , , , , , , )

Kathryn Moore of the Yorkshire Post wrote: “A DELEGATION from the region has jetted off to China today with the Northern Ballet Theatre for a four-week tour designed to raise Yorkshire’s profile in seven Chinese cities. Leeds City Council, Leeds Metropolitan University and Yorkshire Forward are supporting the tour and representatives from each organisation will act as ambassadors for the Yorkshire region.
…”

Click the link below to read the rest of the article…

http://www.yorkshirepost.co.uk/business-news/Delegation-stepping-out-on-a.3590952.jp

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China Report: First Performance in Hangzhou

December 16, 2007 at 5:09 pm (General Information, Overseas Tour) (, , , , , )

Keiko as Butterfly - Photo: Neil G Jarman

The Technicians had a tough day today but performed magnificently. In the UK, we would normally have 12 hours on the first day of the fit up and 4 hours the second day before class and Technical Rehearsal. In Hangzhou, they only had 6½ hours on the first day and 6 today but managed to pull things together to start the Technical rehearsal at 3pm and actually get through the whole ballet by 5.30pm. This was even though the local crew did not arrive at theatre until 12pm despite being called for 9am!

The Company arrived at the theatre for 12pm for class at 12.30pm but before that we had the entertaining job of getting the ballet barres up 12 flights of stairs to the studio. Mission accomplished of course and class started on time.
Tonight was Kenneth Tindall’s premiere in the role of Pinkerton dancing with Keiko Amemori as Butterfly and they gave a great performance in front of a large audience. The performance was well received by the audience and received good applause.

A Promoter from Jianxing came to see the performance tonight and enjoyed the performance but felt that it was probably too short notice to stage a performance in 9 days time and expect to get a reasonable audience. I am hoping that we will get to spend an extra day (Boxing Day) in Beijing before moving on to the next scheduled venue of Nanjing but watch this space!!

Georgina prepares David Ward's hair

Parasols

Waiting in the wings

Darren and Keiko

Keiko as Butterfly - Photo: Neil G Jarman

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China Report: The Three Orchestras

December 15, 2007 at 4:05 pm (Artist's News, Overseas Tour) (, , , , , )

Nigel Gaynor and I arrived in China ahead of the rest of the Company to rehearse the three Chinese orchestras who are performing during the tour.

Our first stop was Beijing, with the Symphony Orchestra of China Opera and Dance Drama Theatre, our first chance to practise our few words of Mandarin. When we did deliver a confident good morning in Mandarin on the first day, it went down very well indeed. I had practised during our short walk to the rehearsal studio, testing the patience of our wonderful translator, Cathy who had to correct my tones at least half a dozen times. But as many of the orchestral players speak conversational English, we are once again allowed to get away with not having learnt more Chinese in the seven years since our last tour to China with NBT. (The last tour in 2006, the Company used recorded music) Like any language, it’s easier to learn when you can immerse yourself in it, and when you can use it every day. Mandarin is especially difficult, but we find a little attempt goes a long way. Nigel always remembers how to say let’s have a break in Mandarin, and the orchestra always understand him and smile appreciatively.

The leader of the Beijing orchestra, aged just 20, is the youngest leader of a professional orchestra in China. And he is a hugely talented musician. When Nigel asked the orchestra manager whether they’d played Madame Butterfly before, he was reassured that the Beijing orchestra had indeed played it five years ago! But many of the players are too young to have been with the orchestra five years ago. After all, the leader would have been just fifteen! It took the full three days of rehearsals to finesse the demands of the score and the specific musical requirements for the ballet, but they are very committed to their musicianship and many of the players said how much they enjoyed playing Puccini for the first time. We are really looking forward to their performances.

Second, we went to Shanghai to rehearse the Shanghai Philharmonic. They are an excellent orchestra, and their oboe/cor anglais player has an extraordinarily beautiful sound. The rehearsals went very smoothly especially as they had performed the opera a few months ago. This gave us a few hours to enjoy the sights along Shanghai’s river and the Bund area of the city.

We then went to Hangzhou to rehearse the third orchestra who are not as familiar with the score. But their love of what they do is obvious and they are an affable lot whose leader is a woman of enormous energy and dedication. They were a real pleasure to work with.

One of the great lessons is that cultural exchange works both ways and I always find the rewards of this kind of collaboration where western music meets an eastern orchestra are much richer than one might at first expect. In the first instance, there are some pretty obvious differences. Chinese orchestral players simply don’t play some of the western instruments very often. The bass clarinet is one example. Another is the cor anglais. In Hangzhou, it seems the harp is not a widely played instrument, so their orchestra had to borrow a harp from Shanghai and hire a harpist from Beijing. And whilst Nigel is a guest working with these orchestras, he is also very focused on ensuring the orchestra will give the best performance possible. At times the usual rehearsal practice of stopping and starting seems to drive a few of the musicians mad, possibly because they don’t hear the wrong notes or understand why the tempo has to be just so. It takes patience, good communication skills, and ensuring the orchestra is involved all the way. One example of this involvement is to explain what is happening on stage during that specific passage in the score, so they understand why the drama is best expressed playing with a particular approach.

And of course there are regional cultural differences. Each of these orchestras has its own characteristic manner of playing. It’s probably not surprising that the Shanghai Philharmonic is very polished in a European style, given the long history of the meeting of east and west cultures in that huge and bustling city. The orchestra is very much at home playing Madame Butterfly; they play molto tenuto/sostenuto, or long full-valued notes. In Beijing the orchestra is more used to playing theatre music, so it was more a matter of guiding the difficult transitional passages in the score and bringing out their lyricism.

In Hangzhou, it was challenging as very few of the players had ever played Madame Butterfly and the orchestra has many young players who have far less professional experience than the other two orchestras. So Nigel stayed back after the first day to help some of the woodwind players rehearse the more difficult passages. I felt for the bass clarinet player who admitted not having ever played the instrument before. I admire their willingness to learn, their capacity for hard work – always with good humour, and the commitment of the players to succeed. They were very determined to deliver on the opening night in Wuxi. And they did, in spite of a tiny pit – so small that Nigel had to make the decision to lose five of the players because they simply couldn’t all fit in and play without the risk of serious injury. So some disappointed musicians had to watch from the auditorium. The pit also meant it was difficult to see and hear each other, and I imagine there were many first night nerves. But Nigel guided them through a solid performance. We’re all looking forward to the second performance in Hangzhou where the pit will be much kinder, and the whole orchestra will be able to play.

(Contributed by Diana Solano wife of NBT Assistant Music Director, Nigel Gaynor)

Diana Solano and Nigel Gaynor - Photo: Neil G Jarman

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China Report: Wuxi to Hangzhou

December 15, 2007 at 3:18 pm (General Information, Overseas Tour) (, , , , , )

Waiting for ever - Photo: Neil G Jarman

Our fate was taken out of our hands today on the coach journey from Wuxi to Hangzhou. A journey that was scheduled to take 2 ½ hours became close to 6 hours! As soon as we left Wuxi, it became extremely foggy and the roads were incredibly bumpy and the driver seemed to have a death wish. We were on two coaches and there seemed to be an ongoing competition to see which could undertake the other in the most hazardous conditions. It was probably the worst and most scary driving we have ever experienced. Ultimately, it was miraculous that we made it without collision although we did see that aftermath of one or two mishaps on route.

The effects of the fog were brought to bear even more spectacularly when the highway was closed at the toll booth between Jiangsu Province (where Wuxi is situated) and Zhejiang Province (where Hangzhou is situated) due to the weather and we remained stationary for more than an hour. The lack of toilet facilities soon became an issue as we waited with no indication of how long we might be stuck -“sometimes it can be 10 minutes and sometimes 3 hours”

Eventually we did make it to the familiar territory of the New Century Hotel and the Company soon forgot the tedium of the journey and were out re-visiting the places they discovered in January 2006 – and particularly Starbucks.

Not such a good situation for the Technicians who were 2 hours late starting the fit up at the Grand Theatre. The schedule was already tight and this delay did not help. The situation was then further aggravated by the theatre staff deciding that we had to finish at 10pm. The Technicians returned to the hotel in a positive frame of mind and happy that they would be ready for tomorrow’s Technical Rehearsal.

The final piece of news from today is that the Promoter may have found another City for us to perform in on 27 December instead of Hefei. No further information yet but it is incredible that a performance can be agreed 10 days before the date and still get an audience (or not.)

Police blockade the road ahead

There’s always time for a company photo - Photo: Neil G Jarman

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China Report: First performance

December 14, 2007 at 4:16 pm (General Information, Overseas Tour) (, , , )

Waiting for Pinkerton - Photo: Neil G Jarman

What started out as a challenging day turned out very well. We had a major battle to persuade the theatre to put the heating on and the dancers did class wrapped up in scarves and woolly hats. At the same time, the Symphony Orchestra of China Opera and Dance Drama Theatre arrived from Hangzhou. Assistant Music Director, Nigel Gaynor has been in China for nearly two weeks rehearsing the three orchestras we will use throughout the tour. They proceeded to set up their chairs, music stands and instruments on the pit lift – I have never seen so many players in such a small space – more than 40 of them! Once the pit lift had descended to performance height there was no way in or out other than climbing ladders – probably the most undignified entrance Nigel has ever made to conduct a performance!

The theatre flying systems was somewhat eccentric and it was only possible to fly two things at any one time and also at the speed that it chose – dead slow. Stage Manager, Chun Yen, did an excellent job adjusting the cues to ensure the rehearsal (and ultimately the performance) ran as smoothly as possible.

We had requested a child to play Trouble in the production and were fortunate enough to have four brought to the theatre for us to choose from. This was fine but obviously disappointing for those not selected for the one performance in Wuxi.

The performance went extremely well and we played to a full house of entirely Chinese. Their applause was not what we are used to in the UK but the fact that they stayed to the end and were engaged throughout were testament to their enjoyment of the production. Andy Waddington and our Technical Team did a great job as did the dancers and orchestra.

Another memorable sight from the day was seeing the auditorium set for the performance and all you could see were hundreds of Chiakis on carrier bags from the sponsors left on the seats for the audience. We set off for Hangzhou by coach first thing tomorrow morning. One down and nine or ten to go!!

so many players in such a small space

hundreds of Chiakis on carrier bags

Hazardous technical work

undignified entrance - Photos: Neil G Jarman

Chiaki and Pippa - Photo: Neil G Jarman

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