This week I had the fabulous opportunity to learn how to do Indonesian Dancing. The class was taught by dancers from ‘Soeryo Soemirat’, who are an Indonesian dance troupe based at the Mangkunegaran Royal Palace in Surakarta. The class was part of a UK tour for the troupe who are promoting their artistic heritage and culture through a series of events called “Discover Indonesia”.
There were eight students, including myself, from varying dance backgrounds from a complete beginner to a ballerina. But we were all new to this style of dance and the enthusiasm of the teachers created a brilliant atmosphere over the two hour short course. Their laughter, cheerful smiles and abundance of encouragement provided us with the confidence to give each move and stance a try. Especially when we had to hold a pose which included what I can only describe as a combination of a power squat, a ballet plié, flexed wrists and head rolls.
The Dancers Performing In The Mangkunegaran Royal Palace
We began with a basic warm up, in which we learnt two hand positions whilst performing the ‘squat plié’ with a banana curved back (please excuse my description of the poses). It was quite tricky to sustain but the professionals looked elegant and poised.
We then learnt the traditional woman’s dance which started in a seated position. The teachers were very strict since we were an intimate class. It was marvellous to receive immediate intricate feedback into the positions and how each one moulds into the next.
The biggest difference I found from other dance styles was that their head movements lead with the chin and consist of diagonal positions rather than vertical ones. Arm movements aren’t harsh but they are straight and precise and often originate from the back of the wrist with the fingers flowing to create shapes and transitions between movements. Feet are often in a turned out position but more horizontal than ballet and can be flexed from the toe joints.
Their youngest students begin learning this traditional dance from the age of five. They breakdown the basics to allow students to build up their muscular strength so they can progress to harder movements.
Another aspect of the dance style is that you can wear masks. These masks are not held on with elastic or other fastenings, instead the dancer has to bite on to them to keep them in place. This forces them to breathe through their noses which is extremely difficult in fast dances as the mask is in close proximity and requires finese to control. It is also tricky and the dancer needs great spacial awareness as these masks only have very small slits to see through which restricts their vision during each performance.
It was an incredible experience and I’m so glad to have been able to get involved. The troupe will be performing some of their signature dances accompanied by the entrancing Royal Gamelan Orchestra on Friday 11th September at 7:30 pm at the Royal Conservatoire of Scotland and I hope to go to see the performance.
Tomorrow will be the first of September 2015 and for me signifies the beginning of my final undergraduate year here at the Royal Conservatoire of Scotland. The last three years have been a whirlwind of exciting experiences, technical discoveries and personal development. Though I have learnt so much from the fantastic teachers that have coached me I know that this is just the beginning, as they have also ignited within me the desire to explore this fantastic art, this wondrous world of opera that so captivates me.
Looking Back To When I First Joined The RCS
I have so much to do in the coming weeks from preparing my application for a Master’s degree, to carefully selecting my audition repertoire and managing my concert and recital bookings for the coming year.
Looking back over the last three years I remember my excitement at the prospect of joining the RCS and preparing for leaving home for the first time. Walking through the doors on my first day full of wonder and anticipation of what was to come, engulfing my senses with the sounds and smells as I walked through the corridors full of new faces. Smiling to myself as I thought that this is exactly where I wanted to be.
Now three years later I enter my final year relishing the challenges ahead, new repertoire to master, opportunities to search out and decisions to make. I know that I will be helped and encouraged to make the best of my time here, stretching myself and pursuing my dreams to one day perform the operas that I love on the great stages of the world.
It has been so much fun to share my time here with you all, your support and comments have helped and encouraged me to believe in myself and to work hard to achieve my dreams.
Here are some pictures from the Royal Conservatoire of Scotland “Sir John In Love” opera production. Firstly here are a few behind the scenes photos that I managed to grab 🙂
I managed to take these pictures after each costume change for “Sir John In Love”
Some of the cast in costume and ready to go.
I am sure I will not be alone in saying a big thank you to the designers Guiseppe and Emma Belli for creating the stunning stage sets and for setting the mood with the fabulous costumes. I found this great stop motion video created by Stuart Leech of the stage and sets being constructed by the RCS workshop staff at Spiers Lock.
The following pictures are copyright of the Royal Conservatoire of Scotland ( KK Dundas ) and appear on their Flickr page. I have tried to include a good selection of their images to help you get a sense of the production as it has been so much fun to be part of it.
The opera was fabulous to be part of and judging by the review in the “The Herald” newspaper the audience enjoyed it too 🙂
I have also included an audio interview with head of Opera at the RCS Timothy Dean that a fellow fourth year B Mus student Max Fane recorded.
The Royal Conservatoire of Scotland’s Opera for this term is ‘Sir John in Love’ by Ralph Vaughan Williams it is an opera in four acts based on Shakespeare’s ‘The Merry Wives of Windsor’. In the preface to the score Vaughan Williams stated his ‘chief object’ was ‘to fit this wonderful comedy with, I trust, not unpleasant music’.
Jessica Hurst and Eva Macfarlane in costume and ready to start
The opera premiered at the Royal College of Music in London in their ‘Parry Opera Theatre’ in 1929. The first professional performance was at Sadler’s Wells Theatre in Islington, London in 1946. It has also been performed in 1978 and 1988 at the Bronx Opera in New York City.
It is so much fun to be involved with the rehearsals. ( Photo reproduced with permission of Gordon Munro )
It’s been a treat seeing the Opera and Master’s students rehearse and to be part of the ensemble. I’ve listened to ‘When Daisies Pied’ hundreds of times in music festivals but didn’t realise it was from this opera. ‘Greensleeves’ a traditional English folk song and tune also features in the musical score. Often people remark on the use of folk songs a genre of music that you know I love.
The performances start on Saturday 9th May with the final performance on Friday 15th May.
Wow what a whirlwind of a week, on Friday evening there was the performance at St Mary’s Cathedral of the RCS Choir from the BMus course. From Haydn’s ‘Little Organ Mass’, Michael Bawtree accompanied on the Cathedral’s Henry Willis organ and played C.P.E Bach’s Fantasia and Fugue in C minor, followed in the second half with John Rutter’s folk song suite ‘A Sprig of Thyme’ conducted by Frikki Walker.
On Saturday I had two shows and Sunday a final matinee performance with Scottish Opera Connect’s company at Webster’s Theatre, Glasgow. Our double bill ‘The Walk from the Garden/Dr Ferret’s Bad Medicine Roadshow’ had a lovely review in the Sunday Herald by Mary Brennan.
“Give the young singers and musicians in Scottish Opera’s Connect Company a cleverly balanced double bill, full of musical contrasts and intrinsic drama – like the one they presented across the weekend – then sit back and enjoy, as they deliver something special, sparked with a mix of keen energy and mature focus.
Stephen Deazley’s piece, Dr Ferret’s Bad Medicine Roadshow, was first aired by Connect in 2011 when they filled the Citizens main stage with a technicolour whing-ding reminiscent of the Land of Oz. At Webster’s – an altogether more intimate black box space – Deazley’s witty romp through some of Hilaire Belloc’s Cautionary Tales arrives in (mostly) black and white: the colour comes from the performances.
Our Dr Ferret is Andrew McTaggart, an avuncular presence whose baritone warmth promises that his elixir can make bad children good…
The Connect chorus (ages ranging from 14 to 21) revel in the mischief of Belloc and the jaunty, quirky humours of Deazley, while the Connect orchestra kept pace with the snap and rhythmic crackle of the score.
The opening piece, Jonathan Dove’s The Walk in the Garden, thrummed with a sombre intensity that demanded much, of the soloists especially. Inspired by Milton’s Paradise Lost, Dove uses the expulsion of Adam (Glen Cunningham) and Eve (Charlotte Hoather) from Eden into an earthly wasteland to echo our own self-inflicted loss of natural habitat through climate change.
The chorus, who bookend the piece in thundering volume (as God, then Milton) sit on-stage as Adam and Eve, garbed like jet-setting holiday-makers, scale Dove’s heights of remembered joys, despair and resignation.
A fierce, compelling work to which young voices gave a touching truth.”
It was fabulous for me to watch Scottish Opera’s emerging artist Andrew McTaggart as Dr Ferret, he is a graduate of the Royal Conservatoire of Scotland and attended the Alexander Gibson Opera School, the chorus sizzled through the entire production and didn’t let up in energy and colourful expression for the entire performance.
I also met the composer of the opera Jonathan Dove on Saturday, he enjoyed our first performance which was fantastic and he signed my score which I’m going to treasure.
It was great to see staff from the RCS vocal department who came along to watch including the head of vocal performance Professor Stephen Robertson, Judith Howarthand my singing teacher Kathleen McKellar Ferguson I would like to say a big thank you to my friends and family who came along to show their support, several of them travelling quite a distance which I really do appreciate and for the cards and messages of support from my friends who could not make it.
Just before I finished for Easter I thought that I would try my hand a little baking. Having seen so many lovely looking cakes on baking blogs I thought I would give it a go. Now I can cook two or three dishes really well, another four or five passably but baking has never been my strong point. I had a great time having a go but I don’t think Mary Berry has got anything to worry about. It didn’t quite come out how I envisaged but I was told that it tasted great, I baked it in a roasting tin because I don’t have a proper tin haha.
It Really Did Taste Good.
I travelled to my Parents for the Easter weekend and after a few days relaxing I spent the last week preparing my final essay of the year for submission when College opens again tomorrow. However it will be great to put my reference books away and immerse myself in the coming week of rehearsals.
Glen Cunningham ( Adam ) Me ( Eve ) and the fabulous Beth Jerem who accompanied us both on piano during our rehearsal.
It is going to be a packed seven days but so worthwhile, the culmination of several months preparation and practice. Throughout the week I will be taking part in the final rehearsals for Scottish Opera Connect’s production of “The Walk From The Garden”. It is so exciting to see all the individual elements come together like a giant jigsaw puzzle. Though I have a good idea of how Glen, who plays Adam and myself, playing Eve fit in to the production it’s not until everyone involved is in the same place at the same time that you get the full picture.
Paradise Lost – John Milton – Published 1667
The opera was composed by Jonathan Dove with the libretto written by Alasdair Middleton and runs for about 50 minutes and draws inspiration from “Paradise Lost” by the great English poet John Milton ( 1608 – 1674 ). The story follows Adam and Eve as they come to terms with the enormity of their actions after eating the apple from the “Tree Of Knowledge Of Good And Evil”, having being told by God that doing so would lead to their death.
Cole Thomas;s Depiction Of The Expulsion Of Adam & Eve From The Garden Of Eden – 1828
But to see what happens you have to wait as I am not giving away any spoilers before the opera opens on Saturday. But I can say that one of the great things about being involved with a live production is the way in which the Director interprets the opera and injects a little of their own personality in to the way we portray the story.
Jonathan Dove has written many wonderful operas and is a fabulous contemporary composer with over twenty works to his name. You can read his biography over on his website, it’s very impressive.
Last night ( Saturday 11th April ) I went to see Scottish Opera’s production of “Jenufa”. I thoroughly enjoyed the opera which was full of dramatic vocals, great performances and enough vocal colour to create a musical rainbow. It was wonderful to watch the opera sat next to Lesley, a lady I got chatting to who was there to experience live opera for the first time.
Jenufa – Scottish Opera
If you missed the production during it’s run in Glasgow you can catch it in Edinburgh from the 16th April to 18th April. The opera is sung in Czech with English surtitles. Scottish Opera: “Jenůfa, a young woman living in a remote rural village, is pregnant, though as yet unmarried. Her stern stepmother, worried for the family’s reputation and her own status as the leader of their village, hides Jenůfa away to bear her child. Months later, the river thaws and a gruesome secret is uncovered. Suspicion falls immediately on Jenůfa, but the truth will out”.
I have several evening rehearsals this week for the RCS production of Sir John In Love which opens on Saturday 8th May 2015. It is a privilege to be involved as a member of the chorus with all my friends and fellow students, it’s shaping up to be a fabulous production.
St Marys Cathedral – Glasgow
On Friday evening, 17th April as a member of the RCS Choir we will be performing at St Mary’s Cathedral, Glasgow conducted by Frikki Walker. A great way to start what I hope will be a memorable weekend for me as I have two performances of “The Walk From The Garden” on Saturday 18th and one matinee on Sunday 19th April.
When I worked with the ballet dancers in ‘Dido and Aeneas’ last month it allowed me the opportunity to get to know Emma McBeth a little better, she’s from New Zealand. Emma is in the third year of her ballet course but we didn’t bump into each other in the first year because she spent her first year of study in Sydney, Australia. During the Easter break I was working out a fitness program and wanted to incorporate some dance, as that’s far more enjoyable for me as it doesn’t feel like a session in the gym because it always passes so quickly, but believe me the after-burn is just as intense. Emma very kindly offered to run me through my paces and we had a fabulous session working out and having fun. I was intrigued to know more about Emma and her training and took the opportunity to find out about her life as a trainee ballerina.
After The Workout
At what age did you first start to dance and how did it all begin?
Formally at eight years of age starting with Tap and Jazz then continuing with ballet. My Mum had lots of ballet videos at home so I started to get inspiration from dancing in the living room. My main inspiration was how I was brought up being encouraged to have fun with dance, just moving around the house and I progressed to proper classes at eight doing exams.
Do you have one significant ballet that was your favourite?
We had all the classics on videos, one of the ones that really stood out to me was Don Quixote all that Spanish flair, one of those ballets that I’ve always wanted to do the solos and the pas de deux etc. I did the pas de deux and solos for one of my productions I did back in New Zealand, at the time I thought ‘oh my goodness this is the best day of my life’ it was so much fun.
Royal Opera House – London – Don Quixote
How long do you dance each day, do you take weekend breaks; how do you structure your training?
At the conservatoire we dance Monday to Friday 9am until 6pm full time, warm ups are usually 08:30, it’s pretty much advised you also do your own practise too. I come in on a Saturday and practise and now I’m in the third year we also have classes on Saturday mornings with Scottish Ballet on a rota basis. Sunday is usually a day off but I use that time for other projects so I usually occupy myself.
A typical day we would have ballet class for two hours, 15 minutes break, maybe a two hour contemporary technique class, in the second and third year you have release technique class that can involve throwing ourselves around the room it’s a lot of fun and in the first year Cunningham technique strengthening the core and finding out the contractions and release. We then have 30-45 minutes lunch then maybe a solos class or pas de deux, contemporary or ballet repertoire classes, rehearsals for shows and things like that. Two days we have a jazz class for versatility, Pilates on Tuesdays, a wide variety of modules.
In first and second year there is theory work and studies, dance anatomy, music and dance history. We had a workshop on nutrition too which was very beneficial.
When did you start performing on stage or in front of an audience?
From when I started ballet we had end of term productions, my first one was Alice in Wonderland. I used to do competitions each two months and I’d do solos for that so I got lots of performing opportunities from about the age of ten. It is good for confidence, good practise for solo performing and being in front of an audience. When we performed in end of year productions I saw it as a celebration of the year and an opportunity to work together with the other dancers in elaborate costumes, we did Beatrix Potter and the costumes were fabulous, I was a kitten from Tom Kitten, the huge masks were the best fun thing ever, a great production.
The most memorable performance was in 2012, I competed in the Genee International Ballet Competition and I made it to the finals, the top 12. The finals night I performed to a full theatre, fortunate enough to perform three solos in front of a panel of international judges so that was amazing. There was apiece premièred that night and I was lucky to perform that choreography too. It was the most amazing thing and shared with the most incredible people and dancers and that’s when I really knew this is what I want to do for the rest of my life, I knew I wanted to perform professionally.
Emma Just Before the “Genee International Ballet Competition”
I finished school and I was 17 receiving university entrance and excellence in my NCEA qualifications and completed all my RAD ballet examinations. I then auditioned for ballet schools elsewhere. I went to Sydney for a year and trained there and then I got a scholarship offer to study in the UK, I auditioned and got accepted into several schools but was really impressed after visiting the Royal Conservatoire of Scotland and decided to come and study here, I loved the fact it was a multi-disciplined Conservatoire.
What other subjects did you study?
In my final year I did History, dance, physical education, chemistry, calculus, and English. The dance education I had at school helped me a lot as it included choreography which has been very beneficial, I love choreography. My favourite subject outside of dance was History and I am still fascinated by the subject. We did a golf module in Physical education that I remember, we would spend an entire afternoon playing golf which was great fun. We also went canoeing down Whanganui River for three days which was quite an experience. I play piano too and started when I was eight, I balanced that, school and ballet and many other activities and I am glad that I did. When finishing school I passed my ATCL Diploma in Piano Performance, my knowledge of piano and music has helped with my musicality and appreciation for the class pianists. I collaborate with a girl in the Masters piano course and we worked on a Bridge week project last year and we’re working on another project at the moment, she is a fantastic friend to have and we work really well together. Another great reason to come here to meet such fabulous people and without my piano background we may have not connected in the same way.
What is your proudest achievement/s?
The Genee International Ballet Competition final in 2012. I also proud of being cast in the lead role of La Sylphide in the show last year, it was a very special thing. It was a romantic ballet and I’d never imagined performing a lead role in a romantic ballet. The coaching sessions helped me a lot as a dancer, actor and performer – picking apart the solos and the mime scenes, valuable advice I’ll never forget.
What is next for you?
Since this is my final year at the conservatoire, I’m auditioning for ballet companies in the UK and Europe. I have a final End Of Year Modern Ballet Graduation performance on the 5th and 6th June at the Conservatoire.
Long Term aims?
Perform in a ballet company and keep a professional performance career as long as possible. A ballet career isn’t very long and you need to maintain good health and stay without any injuries that’s ultimately what I’m concentrating on at the moment.
Emma’s Show Reel
I hope you’ll agree with me that it’s fabulous to read how hard my fellow students work here. Emma is such a lovely girl and I really wish her the very best for the future after she graduates this year.
It has been two years since I first decided to start my blog and record the experiences and opportunities that I would face as a student here at the Royal Conservatoire of Scotland. So here I am 230 posts later and to everyone that has joined me here, supported my endeavours, shared in my experiences and provided invaluable advice I just want to say thank you.
I just love this time of year as all the rehearsals are coming to fruition and the performance dates are just around the corner.
On the 17th April at 7:30 pm I will be taking part with my fellow students at the RCS in our chamber choir, conducted again this year by Frikki Walker at St Mary’s Cathedral, Glasgow.
The following day I am very excited that my family and friends will be traveling to Glasgow to see me take part in the Scottish Opera Connect production of Jonathan Dove’s opera “The Walk From The Garden”. This will be my first lead role playing Eve alongside a fellow student from the RCS, Glen Cunningham who will be performing the role of Adam. The dates of the performances are 18th April 3:30 pm and 7:00 pm and 19th April at 3:30 pm. This opera is part of a double bill, the second production is “Dr Ferret’s Bad Medicine Roadshow” which was inspired by “The Cautionary Tales” by Hilaire Belloc.
As a member of Les Sirenes Female Chamber choir we have been working on Mendelssohn’s “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” for a performance with the BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra on Thursday 14th May at the City Halls Glasgow.
Opening night of Dido and Aeneas, stage make-up done, excitement at boiling point, thank you all for your positive energy, feeling it 🙂
Here are some photographs taken by the RCS.
Here is the review from the The Herald written by Keith Bruce
The Opera Project, Royal Conservatoire of Scotland, Glasgow
The unassuming portmanteau title given to this double bill, featuring senior students at the Conservatoire, masks a very fine double bill of short operas written three centuries apart, which has further performances tonight and tomorrow and will more than reward the effort of catching at the Alexander Gibson Opera Studio.
Both crucially showcase the significance of the new name for “the Academy”, as they feature dancers from Modern Ballet course working alongside undergraduates and masters students of music. Kally Lloyd Jones has choreographed both the dancers and the singing company in both shows in what is an admirable example of integration at work.
The dancers crucially animate Mark Hathaway’s staging of Purcell’s Dido and Aeneas, a piece which is full of good music but only really has the one great tune, given a heart-breaking performance at the close of the tale by the full-voiced Eirlys Myfanwy Davies. She was very ably supported by Charlie Drummond, Jane Monari (Sorceress), Charlotte Hoather and Anna Churchill (coke-snorting witches) and particularly Victoria Stevens as her sister Belinda, whose bold first entrance signalled a skill for dramatic phrasing.
With a baroque band of seven and a chorus of eight, under the baton of Tim Dean, this was a well-resourced and very effectively, if minimally, staged Dido. Our Aeneas, Euros Campbell, however, looked much more comfortable as Le Directeur, opening proceedings for the juicy rarity that is Poulenc’s Les Mamelles de Tiresias. This outrageous post-Second World War appeal for French procreation, with a libretto by Apollinaire from his own First World War play requires a good deal of cross-dressing, much dada-ist larking about, and our heroine to liberate her balloon breasts from her bodice and become a proud, flat-chested, and, um, bearded, feminist.
In fact Le Directeur’s prologue (and another layer of satire about opera staging) is preceded here by tenor Matthew Thomas Morgan singing the rather more serious Apollinaire/Poulenc song Bleuet in a clever piece of period contextualising by musical director Oliver Rundell. Morgan returns later as Le Journaliste in the picaresque tale that incorporates vaudeville, a hilarious snippet of classical ballet, and a big mirrorball palais de dance finish. Barbara Cole Walton and Luke Sinclair are both excellent as the central couple in a company that includes fine performances throughout and is musically sure-footed over tricky terrain, accompanied by pianists Marija Struckova and Michal Gajzler in the version made by Benjamin Britten for Aldeburgh. The piece is a gem, and a real hoot to boot.
This is the last of the four songs that I chose to sing from Aaron Copland’s “Old American Folk Songs”. The lyrics are sorrowful and speak of lost love, the love of someone very important to the writer. It reminded me of the lyrics of “Danny Boy”, having to come to terms with being parted from someone that has become the centre of your world.
The lyrics were originally attributed to George Pope in 1837 but may have been adapted from an earlier song by John Cole in 1833. The sympathetic and emotive melody along with the piano arrangement added by Aaron Copland make this a particular beautiful song to perform.
Long Time Ago
On the lake where droop’d the willow
Long time ago,
Where the rock threw back the billow
Brighter than snow.
Dwelt a maid beloved and cherish’d
By high and low,
American Bride 1880’s
But with autumn leaf she perished
Long time ago.
Mid 1800’s Funeral Cortège
Rock and tree and flowing water
Long time ago,
Bird and bee and blossom taught her
Love’s spell to know.
While to my fond words she listen’d
Tenderly her blue eyes glisten’d
Long time ago.
Today I have been asked to sing the four Aaron Copland songs during the judging interval of the Bruce Millar Gulliver Singing Prize in Stevenson Hall at the RCS. My good friend Jessica Hurst will be performing four songs after me and then we are both to perform a duet, Rossini’s “The Cat’s Duet” it is such an amusing piece and makes me smile thinking about it.
Jessica Hurst And Me Back Stage Before Today’s Performance
George Todica Accompanied Me In My Performance Of The Four Aaron Copland Songs
Had Great Fun Performing Rossini’s “Cat Duet” With My Best Friend Jess Accompanied By Julia Lynch, Who Is One Of The Busiest Accompanists In The Country Who Has Performed With Many Distinguished Artists.