This hour-long instructional DVD is a teaching tool from Magical Kingdom of Dance for use in preschool and pre-ballet classes. Developed by Mary Alpha Johnson over the course of 67 years of teaching, and continued by her daughter Tonie Johnson Bense, the curriculum in this DVD is designed to inspire young dancers with the use of characters, poems, and songs. There are games for learning right from left, using directions in personal and general space, and for basic ballet and locomotor steps. All the French ballet terms used are paired with a character to make memorization fun and meaningful: Saute the Bunny, Port de Bras the Octopus, and Bouree the Bumblebee are just a few friends featured on the DVD.
In The Magic of the Mat, Johnson Bense leads a group of sweet three- to six-year-olds through their paces on an illustrated 52” square mat. While the DVD and mat are designed to be used together, the exercises Bense teaches her young dancers could be easily adapted to any pre-ballet class setting. They would make an especially good starting point for someone new to teaching little ones. From putting on diamonds out of a jewelry box to buzzing around an imaginary front yard with bourees, The Magic of the Mat contains great strategies for a fun, imaginative, disciplined, and joyful pre-ballet classroom. The DVD and many other teaching tools, along with more information about the curriculum, can be found online at MagicalKingdomOfDance.com
TuTu Much! Follows nine female ballet students through the audition process for Canada’s Royal Winnipeg Ballet School. These girls are pushed to their physical and emotional limits over the course of the four-week summer school, which serves as an audition for the RWBS year-round professional division. They compete with friends, classmates, and roommates, but most intensely with themselves. They’ve taken to heart the message that dance is hard work and not for the faint of spirit, the indifferent, or the undisciplined. They’re regular kids with big, serious ambitions, and they handle themselves with poise where there are careers are concerned. To balance the solemnity of the studio, there’s plenty of levity in endearing shots of the girls video chatting with family, mock-fighting with water sprayers, and raiding the school vending machines.
This film is an honest look into one school’s selection process, and the nine young subjects, their teachers, and their families are all very candid about the ups and downs of professional ballet training. The film hit selected movie theaters across Canada in 2010, giving the general public a peek into this foreign, mostly inaccessible world. Producers Vonnie Von Helmolt and Merit Jensen Carr and Director Elise Swerhone deserve kudos for presenting to the public a much more realistic look at professional dance training—what it actually takes to “make it”—than any American TV program ever has.
TuTu Much! made me root for all parties involved. I wanted these young women to succeed. I felt for their parents facing tough financial and family decisions. I sympathized with the teachers’ demands that every student bring her full effort into the work. Though most appealing to a dance audience, the film is important in a broader sense because it presents a set of highly driven young people, something that seems to be increasingly rare. It’s mostly straight talk about the sometimes harsh realities of the dance world, with just enough sweetness and charm to be satisfying.
Ashton Celebration: The Royal Ballet Dances Frederick Ashton is true to its title, offering both onstage and offstage tributes to Frederick Ashton, one of the twentieth century’s choreographic giants and architect of the English style. Through six ballets and fifteen minutes of interview footage, we get a look at the particularities and peculiarities of Ashton, and the rigor undergone to preserve the works. The ballets represent a full range of flavors in Ashton’s work, from the steamy, serpentine Monotones I to the heartbreakingly romantic Marguerite and Armand. The DVD was filmed live at the Royal Opera House in February 2013.
One of the special features on the DVD is a series of interview clips on the subject of the Frederic Ashton Foundation, whose aim is to perpetuate the legacy and work of the choreographer. Among comments from stagers and dancers about the preservation of the choreographer’s intent and style, Anthony Dowell makes a very important point: in all of this, the aim is not to “make museum pieces,” but to keep the works alive and in good custody so they remain relevant. Rojo adds the observation that the sheer difficulty of the choreography keeps the ballets challenging, even as dancers become more and more technically skilled.
The comparison is often drawn between Ashton and George Balanchine, but it’s especially striking in La Valse, the first ballet on the program, because Balanchine used the same Ravel score for a work of his own. Frederick Ashton did for British ballet what Balanchine did in the US: He defined a style, fiendishly athletic but with a different emphasis, more subtle but no less expressive. Ashton’s La Valse is most interesting for the complexities of epaulement within a standard choreographic composition. The whole affair sumptuously dark, a rich painting of Ravel’s unnerving score. It all dissolves into giddy, brassy chaos as the curtain descends on a corps de ballet of dozens and three principal couples.
Next are two very different pas de deux, the Meditation de Thais, set to Massenet, and Voices of Spring, set to Strauss. The first is aching and exotic, a la La Bayadere; the second is a playful showpiece more along the lines of Spring Waters. I don’t think this particular Voices of Spring is the most satisfying example available on video; Yuhui Choe and Alexander Campbell perform with great competence but little dimension.0
by Catherine L. Tully
What a delight! Christopher Hobson has really come up with lovely arrangements that work for ballet class here on “Sounds of Christmas“. I doubt it was an easy task to make these songs fit for barre and center, but the way he has done it–they sound totally natural.
I can see this being a great fit for classes at any level. Children may recognize familiar Nutcracker tunes such as Waltz of the Flowers or the Dance of the Sugar Plum Fairy. They’ll certainly know favorites such as Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer and Jingle Bells!
There is certainly plenty here for adults as well, with tracks such as Santa Baby and O Holy Night. Some are fun, some are beautiful–and all are extremely well crafted. Where a collection of Christmas music tends to make one worry about it being a campy bunch of poorly arranged tracks, instead Hobson has done the opposite and delivered a treasure trove of melodies for use in any ballet class.
Get yourself this Christmas gift–or give it to a teacher you know for the holiday. It’s terrific.
Disclosure: MBSM advertises on 4dancers0
Modern Ballet Studio Melodies, Volume 4 by the talented Christopher Hobson is a standout for its variety in style and its inspiring energy. The album contains thirty-six tracks of music with no repeats for the seventeen barre pieces. Hobson plays something for everyone, from Debussy and Prokofiev to the themes from “South Park,” ET and Indiana Jones.
All the music on the disc is dynamic, and the adagio tracks, seven in all, are especially sensitive and lyrical. The two grande allegro tracks are on the slow side, but the rest of the allegro music has a wide enough range of length and tempi to make this CD work for many different class levels. The same is true of the music for barre: most exercises have multiple choices of music. The versatility offered here comes as no surprise; in addition to composing and arranging music for the studio and the stage, Hobson has been commissioned to compose music for the International Dance Teachers Association’s entire ballet syllabus.
Overall Christopher Hobson delivers a delicious mix of brightness, weight, attitude, and spice on Modern Ballet Studio Melodies 4. It’s suitable and inspiring for many levels from intermediate student to professional.0