China Radio International – Review

January 3, 2008 at 9:53 am (Marketing and PR News, Overseas Tour) (, , , , )

NBT's Madame Butterfly“Northern Ballet Theatre, one of the best loved and most traveled dance companies in Britain, has brought another theatrical success to China with “Madame Butterfly.” And this unexpectedly moving production wraps up the 5th Beijing International Dance Festival…”

click here to read full review 

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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: 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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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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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


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 Tour Begins – 11th December 2007

December 12, 2007 at 4:01 pm (Artist's News, Company News, Overseas Tour) (, , , , , )

Yesterday the China Tour began at Manchester Airport…

Principal Artist Chiaki Nagao at Manchester Airport – Photo: Ian Howarth

The Company at Manchester Airport – Photo: Ian Howarth

From left to right: Principal Artists Chiaki Nagao and Keiko Anemori, Dancers Kenneth Tindall and Hannah Bateman and Principal Artist Hironao Takahashi wait for a flight – Photo: Ian Howarth. 

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First Letter from China

December 12, 2007 at 2:17 pm (General Information, Overseas Tour) (, , , , , )

Northern Ballet Theatre has just started a four-week tour to China performing Madame Butterfly in 7 cities.Two busloads of dancers, Stage Management, a Physiotherapist and a Pianist arrived at the Haiyue Star Hotel in Wuxi after a journey lasting more than 24 hours. From West Park, Leeds by coach to Manchester Airport, flight to Paris, 4 hour wait, 11 hour flight to Shanghai and then a 4 hour bus journey to Wuxi. All arrived looking a little the worse for wear but with only one missing bag belonging to Mikhaila Pye, Wardrobe Assistant.

I made the similar journey yesterday with the Technical Department although the journey from Shanghai to Wuxi only took 2½ hours! After checking into the hotel, we took a visit to the Wuxi People’s Great Auditorium to work out the logistics for the fit up on Thursday. We were slightly concerned to be told that 13 of us were going in 2 cars – it was true but not the sort of cars we were expecting (see photo)!

Andy Waddington, Technical Director has gone off on day trip to Nanjing and Yangzhou to check out theatres in those cities which we will play later in the tour.

The Haiyue Star is a nice enough hotel but the restaurant menu entirely in Chinese is more than a little challenging! What we can see of the City of Wuxi is a little gray and uninspiring. Tomorrow the dancers have an optional class followed by a visit to a local hospital, which is apparently sponsoring our performance in Wuxi.

Mark Skipper
Chief Executive NBT 

Tour Schedule
14 December People’s Great Auditorium, WUXI
16 December Grand Theatre, HANGZHOU
17 December Grand Theatre, HANGZHOU
21 December Poly Theatre, BEIJING
22 December Poly Theatre, BEIJING
23 December Poly Theatre, BEIJING
27 December Grand Theatre, HEFEI (May be cancelled)
29 December Zijin Theatre, NANJING
31 December Grand Theatre, YANGZHOU
3 January Grand Theatre, SHANGHAI
4 January Grand Theatre, SHANGHAI

Crew Car Wuxi - Photo by Neil Jarman

Peoples Great Auditorium Wuxi

Haiyue Hotel Wuxi

View over Wuxi - Photo: Neil Jarman

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