Monday, 29 August 2011
Dance releases your inner demon. Beware.
'A Conversation with Carmel' by Barrowland Ballet Company
plus dancers drawn from the community, Golden,(60+ age) Dance Base, Edinburgh.
My Golden Blog: 15-28th Aug, 2011
Monday, 15th Aug 1-5pm, Rehearsal 1:
We Goldens meet below Medusa's Hair in Bread Street. No, this is not some pre-Fringe mythopoeic dark night of the soul experience (though possibly it might be) but a hairdressers.
Golden, I should explain, is a dance group for the over 60s which meets at Dance Base, in the Grassmarket, Edinburgh run by the director, Morag Deyes. Morag is a hoot - her hilarious commentary during the workshops alone is worth going for ('Now we need to get our leg over - oh dear, what made me say that. You know what I mean.')but also the wonderful glow of dopamines or is it endorphins that result from the work-outs. So what has Morag let us in for now?
The below stairs space has a sprung floor and one whole wall of mirror - a perfect dance studio in theory. In practice there is no ventilation, as we discover to our cost as the day goes on, there are pillars in the middle of the space (presumably to keep the ceiling up)which we are in danger of knocking into and a pole.
'Hey,we're not doing pole-dancing, are we?' exclaims one of the Goldens.
The Goldens are up for most things. We've done Bollywood, Flamenco, Russian folk and various types of Contemporary dance but this time, appearing as a cameo in the professional dance 'A Conversation with Carmel' we'll be guests at a surprise party for 83 year old Carmel, danced by the amazing Diana Payne Myers, who is in fact 83. She is small, elegant and modestly sits to the side as we Goldens are put through our paces by Natasha Gilmore - director of Barrowland Ballet company. I recognize her face from the BBC Alba series of programmes which have been running for the last six weeks about dance in Scotland, featuring, amongst other dance groups, Golden, and Natasha's dance work with refugees in Maryhill, Glasgow.
The warm-ups include poses and freezes, as if for a camera, different poses to different counts. I'm already in a muddle. How many to the left? What? Oh the right. Yeah, I've got the legs but what do the arms do? Panic. Am I up for this? My spatial memory seems to have gone. The perils of ageing - inability to do more than two things at the same time and remember sequences.
Thank god, for a break. Others have remembered to bring a plastic bottle of water. Not me. I slip out to the ladies' loo, through a washroom divided by a gold chain screen (this is the Beauty Parlor section) and a refreshing glug of cold water.
Break over. It seems that the warm-ups were only warm-ups and the dance itself won't be so complicated. Perhaps I will cope after all.
So it proves. But at the end of the day, I'm wondering, will I remember it tomorrow.
But two professional dancers, Gemma Williams and Emma-Jayne Park (part of our guest scenes) are sweet and helpful and the other professional main dancers, Matthew Hawkins, Jade Adamson and Vince Virr make us feel welcome and part of the team.
End of day one, laughs and shared fears with the other Goldens. It's a good way to get to know each other. (I'm a newbie, only joining last summer term.) The others bonded during the Glasgow Tramway performance last year, filmed on BBC Alba (or as I learn to say 'Alaba', the Gaelic pronunciation).
But info for the next day: bring passport photo for our pass to the venue (St George's West church);
bring costume for tomorrow (as if for a party: black, white,grey,silver,or twinkly bits);
complimentary tickets only for first and 2nd performance;
fliering: please do some, or take fliers to give friends.
Tues, 16th Aug, 10.30am, Rehearsal 2:
A techie at the venue (St George's W). As I've been to church services here, I'm intrigued to see it transformed. There's a bar in the foyer (well,good for the open-minded minister here) and the cafe, usually staffed only for lunch, now continues into the evenings, and the usual staff, including some Care in the Community, are augmented for the festival. With our venue passes we get a 20% discount at the cafe (Great value) and can get into any other shows for free, as long as there are seats unsold - but you have to wait minutes before the show opens to know. Hurray! Worth a try.
We've all brought our costumes. Oohs and ahs at how glamorous we all look. If Joanna Lumley can do it at 60, I'm thinking, look, so can we. The changing room is a vaulted basement where the vast freezers for the cafe are kept. A bit of a squash: 15 Goldens and other community dancers, plus 5 professionals, two kids aged 6 and 8, and Natasha's 14 month year old toddler, Otis. Ah, bless. Oohing is his skill, an adorable smile and sheer joy at dancing - no guesses what his future will be.
In the 'theatre', the church's gold leaf is now obscured by ranks of overhead scaffolding and lights, the balcony is closed to the public and for sound, lighting engineers etc only, the pews are banished to the wings, hidden by black drapes and in their place, rows of raked seats. Back-stage the near-obscurity of vision means plenty of hazards - bumping into or tripping over other shows' props, scenery etc. The stage manager puts white tape on the edges of metal things sticking out, and lines the steps to the stage.
Upstage, stage left (which? where? My amateur dramatics' days come back and I realize I do know what they mean) this is the nightmare. Getting off stage in particular, since the black drapes at the back are so long they fall in a fold, instead of being swept out of the way, so they are a trip hazard, then the steps go off at an unexpected angle, then there's the danger of banging your head on a low bar (part of the light rigging etc)when the Golden group has to exit pronto after our party scene dancing the Slosh to Beyonce (Oh yeah, I told you we can do anything)and increasingly wild dance movements, including the Highland Fling, Moira's belly-dancing, and 'Monsters'. (Och, you have to be there.)
Rehearsal 3: 1-5pm Afternoon at Dance Base
Lo and behold, I find I've remembered most of it. What I can't, I'm reassured by Matthew who goes through stuff again slowly for anyone who asks. Natasha has a great way of delegating to the other professionals, especially to Matthew- who is becoming the Goldens' organizer, but also the others, Jade, and Vince take part in warm-ups and cheer us on. A cheery smile from Vince and 'Come on, ladies'- what charm. No harm in a bit of transparent flattery to a group of 'mature' ladies (the 'elderly/old' words are banned) by a young man with beautifully toned body. Which doesn't happen every day but I guess you know that.
How swish to be in glorious, state of the art, Dance Base: green glass floors in the passage ways upstairs, sprung floors in the studios, views of the castle or to Grassmarket, the back of the Lot (former church, former arts venue, now for sale), a beautiful meld between modern and old, the architects being Malcolm Fraser Associates.
I notice Gareth K Vile taking a fag break on the balcony outside our studio. Gareth is the editor of 'The Shimmy', the dance inset of 'The Skinny' magazine who works out of an office in Dance Base during the festival. Yikes. Hope he doesn't get a bad impression of the show from our rehearsal. But, Gareth doesn't even glance our way, being the consummate professional.
The high-light is Otis' contribution to the warm-ups. He loves to take part and tries to imitate us. He can bend his knees up and down, but can't quite jump. If he looks up, he falls on his bottom with a bump. Clapping is his favourite and we all cheer (quietly, not to alarm him- many of us are grannys, of course.) He gets passed round all the pros during the rehearsal so if Natasha is busy there's always someone to pick him up, swing him round, or make faces. It reminds me of watching families in restaurants in Italy. He is always the centre of attention from someone, so rarely grumpy. His real granny, Natasha's mum is on hand, if necessary, with bottle which he climbs into his push chair for. But his good-temper is remarkable.
Day 3: Professional rehearsal only.
Day 4, Thursday 18th Aug: Dress Rehearsal 1pm-3.30pm at St G's W:
A run-through-starting at 2.15 at the time the show will be, so we simulate the real thing, how long we have for set-up and strike (hmm, just showing-off I know some technical jargon here)for the shows before and after us. The downside is we Goldens and other community dancers have been told to come in costume and are relegated to the public loos for a changing room. Only the professionals get the vaulted freezer room. Chwarae teg (Fair play), as they say in Wales. The upside is we are allowed to watch the show from the audience seats when we're not on - most of it.
The show is incredibly moving. I'd no idea from the mad, fun bit of the party we take part in. Carmel's life is evoked in cameo flashbacks, with the background of filmed Talking Heads of real interviewees (not actors)with various older people about important stages of their life: childhood, courting, having a baby, motherhood, growing old etc. And this is organized around the build-up to and during Carmel's surprise 80th birthday party (or 83 as the dancer, Diana now is).
Moving moments include the awkward older son, performed by Matthew in a hideous grey diamond-patterned jumper who means well by organizing the party but upsets his mother - it is obviously the last thing she wants; the entwined, duet of young lovers, Vince Virr and Jade Adamson to thudding pulses like a heart-beat of Quee MacArthur's music, is one of the most erotic dances I've seen for ages, interrupted by a pregnant Natasha (who really is pregnant. How often are pregnant woman allowed to continue on stage?) as she carries baby Otis and a plastic laundry basket and hangs up washing on a line - particularly poignant for any women in a similar situation- passion and career ended by motherhood. The most heart-wrenching moment was Diana's solo expressing loneliness and despair of old age, followed by her death and wake.
The show has many positive, hilarious moments though: celebrating and ruefully laughing at family tensions at the party, but also a hilarious dinner at a long table when all the family members, ranging in age from baby to 83 year old, squabble, laugh, peak through their fingers when they should be saying grace, row, all suggested by facial expression and slaps and bangs on the table. The show ends on a positive note too. After Carmel's death, there are the filmed Talking Heads discussing highlights of their lives, in particular dancing in dance-halls whilst Diana/Carmel dances on top of a table to a merry folk-like tune. This widens out to a clip of people street dancing, further widening as The Talking Heads hope there will be dancing in heaven too.
Tears were running down my cheeks, I have to admit. And I feel very privileged and humbled to be part of such a moving show and dancing with such talented professionals.
Opening Show: Friday, 19th August
We get our venue passes! A red ribbon stamped 'Remarkable Arts' (the venue producers)and plastic card adorned with our variously hideous passport photos.
All arrive in costume but last minute changes of outdoor for dancing shoes, and make-up titivating taking place in the loos (in the Ladies at least) proves a nightmare. One of the only 3 loos is out of order. There is a long queue. The public are also queuing - not just for our show but those exiting from the one before or come early for ours. Hilary, Otis' granny is having to change his nappy in the same room. The hand-drier makes a noise like Concorde taking off - Otis, just kicks his legs on his changing table, completely unfazed, thank goodness.
We must be back-stage, as soon as the public from the previous show exit - 3/4 hour before the show starts to have time for a warm-up, keeping out of the wings so that the crew can scene change and sort out the techie stuff, then when they're ready, we must move into the wings out of sight before the audience enters. My throat feels dry. I daren't drink any more from my plastic water bottle since there will be no possibility of a loo visit from now on.
And we're off. 'Break a leg,' someone whispers. Er, maybe not.
The film video of reminiscences of unmarried pregnancy - 'the greatest shame a family can have' is our cue, but is so quiet we miss it. Perhaps the audience doesn't realize we're late. The greetings scene fails to change on the 6th beat but delays till the eighth- there are logjams in the flow- again the audience may not realize but we know. Shelagh and I who enter later with a tray of teacups also fluff our entry - did we count wrong - or did we fail to pick up the shift in musical tone of the 'dream-sequence'? Never mind, we're on. Someone fails to crouch when Diana enters and we're supposed to hide. I fail to reach my group in time for one of the photo poses so I freeze mid-stage. The whole thing seems raggedy to me (our bit- the professionals are superb, of course) and over in a trice.
The profs bow twice, we enter on the second one, we bow twice then off. To cheers, feet stamping and cries of Bravo - they liked it! Of course, they did. The audience is mainly family and friends with all those comps! Ah, but the press are there too. So crossed fingers.
We must grab our coats etc (we had to store them in the wings as no dressing-room, handbags and wallets returned from the security box, and we must pile out - once the audience has cleared, for a welcome cup of tea (hey! at 20% discount, flashing our venue cards) so that the crews can dismantle our show and the new crew take over for the next show- a conveyor belt operation.
Phew! Natasha is smiling. Relief all round.
Revitalized, I take advantage of my free pass to any other show in the venue and slip in at the very last minute - there is a seat free - for a version of Virginia Woolf's 'Orlando'. The actor, Judith Williams, is superb. 4 star overall, I'd say.
Sat 20th Aug
Two delightful children join us - Scottish schools having gone back they can only perform at weekends- boy with glorious golden curls, and his sister, in a striking twinkling top. Being pros, and having done the show in its earlier run, they only need a quick reminder during the warm-ups. Otis' face lights up at their arrival and he rushes to them.
Getting the right amount of food, sleep etc for him must be a juggling act by half but it seems to work. The first day Otis got fractious when taken off stage, (he doesn't want the fun to stop) but Natasha evolves a sequence of amusing things for him to do back-stage - walking him up and down the steps,whilst holding he hands, playing with the row of plastic water bottles, then lifts him into his high-chair and enters for the family feast scene and Otis is beaming with joy again. There is only one day when he's a bit grisly. 'Teething, I fear' Natasha says, but thankfully, probably not, since it never happens again.
The sound for the films is louder; we Goldens are on cue. Not bad. Applause not quite so loud but OK. (Less family/friends in today.) We get only 3 stars from 'Broadway Baby' - a young male critic - a highly intelligent, analytical review but little empathy. What does he know or care about old age and death!
Rest of the run: Sun 21st-Sun 28th Aug (excluding Wed 24th our day off)
The Fest magazine gives us 4 stars! That's more like it. We get better every day. Then disaster. Tues the film sound fails. Jade continues doing Diana's hair to silence. The music for 'Greetings' comes on. Perhaps it's only the film sound that is a problem? But then our music stops too. We continue dancing in silence. Pretty professional, eh! Perhaps the audience will think it's supposed to be like this? But then the stage manager walks on-stage and announces that due to technical failure the show will have to be canceled. Money back or come back another day. A cheery voice shouts from the audience 'I'm sure we'll all come back.'
Morag Deyes,(Director of Dance Base and Goldens' tutor)it seems, was in the audience but left at the first blip. We feel depressed and only hope she'll come back. But she's a busy woman, what with the festival programme at Dance Base. Worse, apparently there were critics and dance promoters in the audience. Natasha looks glum. The techie failure will affect the rest of the shows in the venue too. Oh dear.
Wednesday is our day off.
On Thursday, we return to find the technical problem is sorted. Someone had pulled out a plug which is now taped up to prevent reoccurence. No one has admitted it so no heads have rolled but then, whoever it was won't do it again.
The show goes brilliantly. We Goldens are tighter, more confident as each day goes past. I find I can now look around at the others and enjoy what we're all doing, instead of just feeling terrified like a rabbit in the headlights.
5 stars***** from 'Three Weeks' newspaper. Whoah! Natasha, who is always calm and pleasant, now seems mellower than ever and exudes happiness. 'Well done!' I say to Diana. 'You're part of it too,' she says.
We only get glimpses of the professionals on stage, peering through slits in the black drapes at the side of the stage which get left open when the prof enter from mid-wings- but we stand well back. Heaven protect anyone from Natasha if caught visible to the audience. Vince and Jade's erotic dance, Diana's despair solo become more and more moving, especially as I get to know the music - Quee MacArthur's score. I think if I ever hear that music again I will instantly remember and act out the moves in my head. The profs' entrances and exits for each scenario become so familiar, I know exactly where we are in the dance. I listen to the tales of the Talking Heads more deeply until words, music and movement are part of me. I know when to stand out of the way for the profs to pass by since they must traverse the wings, round the back of the audience, to appear at the opposite side of the stage. Each time Natasha passes with Otis in her arms, we hear his little wondering oohs. I shall miss that.
I shall miss the whole thing.
Thank goodness, for Golden Dance class to look forward to when the autumn term starts.
And now a different community team will join 'Carmel' during Oct-Nov in Glenrothes, Paisley, Stirling, Stornoway and Aberdeen. Good luck to them. I'm sure they'll enjoy it as much as we did.