Saturday, March 26, 2011

Bluebird Pas de deux for Dance Tales Story Ballets

I have had this short Bluebird Pas de deux on DV tape sitting in a cupboard for over 25 years and a few days ago I felt the urge to archive it for posterity. It was made as a promo for  Dance Tales Story Ballet Series for the BCC to demonstrate my production skills as a TV producer.

It took me ages to get it together and I really do have to thank all involved especially the Royal Opera House, Covent Garden who made the whole series happen for me.

For years I had been filling Auckland's major venues with my original children's show that introduced classical ballet to a mainstream audience. It started with 'The Tales of Beatrix Potter' at the Auckland Town Hall and was the first occasion where I learned the lesson that one has to plan for success as well as failure. 23,000 through in just four days. The 14 wheelchairs nearly finished me off. This and subsequent production every school holidays kept my serious opera venture going.

I had the idea to make them into a TV series and reach a wider audience. the Muppets were popular and I though my narrated ballet would be popular too. Not a good idea as it took for years of my life and although Dance Tales reached a huge audience via BBC it was incredibly hard to produce and made very little money. In fact I just broke even. I should have done a Circe du Soliel. That was my mistake.

But I have kept the copyright series protected as I knew one day I should be able to reach the audience I desire and today with Google Partners I think its time may have come. We'll see.

The management at The Royal Opera House had seen my production of Schoenberg's 'Erwartung' on video. They were impressed and offered me any help they could  with my career short of asking me to direct. I needed the best dancers and I asked and was granted two of the Birmingham Royal Ballet principals who were visiting Auckland Sandra Madgwick and David Yow.

The one stipulation was that I used their costume which was not helpful as I had to show the BBC my costumes were up to it. But I have  'quirky, sharp' style so I came up with the idea of showing three 'balletic styles' in one Bluebird.  An old fashioned droopy tutu, traditional tutu, based on the one from 'Prince of the Pagodas' which I adored as a child and very modern Ballenchine with minimal leotards.

The costumes were made by Elizabeth Jenkins and we actually took bales of blue material to the TV studio to colour check for blueness! I like 'blue' bluebirds. The YouTube compression doesn't do it justice.

The Petipa/Cecchetti choreography is so exceptional that I like the modern uncluttered bluebirds best!

Carl Doy undertook the music using one of the first computer programmes. For this Elizabeth Jenkins my brilliant costume designer  and I travelled to Wellington to see the costumes fitted  and to record the performance so the tempos would be correct for the dancers play back in Auckland. It was the only performance in my life I have watched from the flys.

The director and the cameramen at TVNZ did a superb job. We only had a few hours. It is not so surprising that the camera work is excellent as NZ cameramen love rugby  and filming ballet is very similar lots of movement and virtually one angle the front centre on three heights. Classical ballet really only has one angle dead flat on. Looks appalling from the side.

But the greatest joy was in the editing. This would be a breeze today with digital editing but in 1984 it was tape based. Just reeling through the tapes took hours and at $1000 an hour reeling was expensive. Each cut had to be done individually no going back. To layer and get the feet in sync was tremendously difficult. The opening sequence took hours of planning off line.

Today I could do the whole thing at home using Motion for exactly what two hours of editing cost, nearly NZ $3000  in  1984! Such is life.

This promo helped me convince the powers that be that I should be given a chance. The series went on to become a finalist in the LA Monitor Awards for best edited programme but its time had not yet come.

In 1986 and still in some countries today it is cartoons that is the only fare offered up to children on TV and to some extent still is. You don't have to pay residuals on cartoons. Fortunately I took the precaution of paying all my artists film rates so I own the copyrights. This was unusual at the time and I was laughed at for paying my artists over the odds but I knew even though I could see no chance of marketing them then that one day I would.

Maybe it is now? We'll see. I know what we all achieved at the time was exceptional. I am so grateful to all involved for their hard work. I couldn't even start on it today but I hope that this series will be a promo to other ballet companies to show that there is an alternative to Cinderella and the Nutcracker at Xmas and they will take chance on 'Dance Tales' as I did. The box office may surprise you!

NZ ballerina Rowena Jackson and Amanda Price in 'The Little Match Girl' Dance Tales Story Ballets

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