Southampton gets a sprinkling of fairy dust
This week I travelled to Southampton with Tobias Batley, Pippa Moore, Lucia Solari and Javier Torres where we took Southampton by storm in a whirlwind of fairy dust. We'll be visiting the city's Mayflower Theatre for the first time in our history from 28 - 31 May performing A Midsummer Night's Dream, so what better day to let people know about our tour than on Shakespeare's 450th birthday which fell on Wednesday 23 April.
Following a half day of class and rehearsal, and with suitcases full of pointe shoes, costumes and tiaras, we flew down to Southampton on Tuesday afternoon to be able to devote the whole of the following day to media activities and an exclusive launch event where the dancers would perform extracts from A Midsummer Night's Dream. We started the day early as Toby, Pippa and I headed to the BBC Radio Solent studio for an interview on the breakfast show. It was short and sweet and we were soon back at the hotel where it was time to wake up Lucia and Javi, get into costume and head to Southampton's Bargate monument for a photo call. As Demetrius (Toby), Helena (Pippa), Lysander (Javi) and Titania (Lucia) climbed into the taxi our lovely driver insisted it wasn't the first time he'd had a real fairy in the back of his cab.
We were only at Bargate for 40 minutes but in that short time the dancers received the paparazzi treatment with two photographers, two radio presenters and a TV cameraman all vying for some exclusive time with the group as the gathering crowds looked on. Javi and Lucia completed their first live radio interview of the day with BBC Radio Solent who had brought their radio van, complete with rooftop transmitter down to Bargate; at the same time Toby and Pippa chatted to the presenter from Unity101. Finally the cameraman from BBC South Today interviewed Toby and Lucia with some of the footage airing during the news that evening. The photo call came to a close in the nick of time just as the rain started to fall.
We returned to the hotel to allow Lucia to wash off her glittery Titania make-up, and so everyone could change and have a light lunch. We were then joined by David Nixon and headed to The Point in Eastleigh where the dancers would take class, lead by David, and rehearse for the evening launch event. It might have been a return for normality except that waiting for us at the studio was an ITV Meridian cameraman and presenter. ITV were there to film a feature about our first visit to Southampton and the link between A Midsummer Night's Dream and Shakespeare's birthday. They filmed the dancers as they were taking class, recorded interviews with David and all the dancers individually and finally captured the Theseus/Hippolyta pas de deux danced by Javi and Lucia and a dress rehearsal of the three lovers pas de trois featuring Pippa, Toby and Javi.
By 3.30pm ITV were wrapped and it was time to head to Southampton City Art Gallery where the launch event would be held. Two members of our Technical Department had completed the long drive down from Leeds in a van to provide all the equipment we needed for the performance including our own vinyl floor covering to create a safe dancing surface. However, we had a slight hitch when we realised the gallery floor underneath was made of rock-hard marble, not the most shock absorbant of ground coverings! Not wanting anyone to get injured, it was decided to take out one extract of the ballet involving a lot of grand jetés.
We spent a couple of hours preparing during which time BBC Radio Solent called for a third live interview, this time with David. By 6pm we were joined at the gallery by more than 60 guests looking to find out more about Northern Ballet and to watch us in action for the first time. David introduced the Company and gave an introduction to A Midsummer Night's Dream before introducing the dancers to the audience. To begin, the four dancers did an improvised role play on the stage, pretending to be their characters interacting in the green room. This sort of activity usually takes place behind closed doors in the studios back in Leeds to help the dancers get into character and explore their motives and emotions without actually doing any dancing. Of course, as I'm sure you already know, our dancers are also superb actors and had the audience in stitches as I tried to stifle my own sniggering from the 'wings'. Toby and Pippa followed this by dialogue-ing a pas de deux, another rehearsal technique, and then danced the same scene without speaking to allow the audience to see the thought behind the movement. The dancers then performed a handful of other extracts from the ballet before a Q&A session from the audience at the end.
The event was all over by 7.30pm with the floor rolled up and all the equipment loaded back into the van to return to Leeds. Toby and Lucia were done too and would be flying back to Leeds in the morning to attend rehearsals in the afternoon, but Pippa and Javi were not so lucky and were stuck with me again the next day for another photo shoot.
The three of us arrived at the Mayflower Theatre at 9am the next day where Pippa and Javi would be modelling clothes provided by John Lewis for a fashion feature which will appear in the Southern Daily Echo in the coming weeks. All the best fashion shoots feature pointe shoes in my opinion and Pippa and Javi worked the camera like little superstars in some beautiful balletic poses which really showed off the clothes. Like pros, we completed the shoot in record time and then it was time to say goodbye to Southampton and head to the airport to fly home after a jam-packed two days.
If the good people of Southampton didn't know Northern Ballet before, they certainly do now.