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Tribute to a legendary choreographer

 

Familiar, but not so much. As the Bermuda Festival of the Performing Arts kicks off next month Shakespeare will play a huge part. A Midsummer Night’s Dream will run over two days at Earl Cameron Theatre, launching the festival’s inaugural Shakespeare on the Rock Series.

It should be interesting even to those who already know the comedy, which was written by William Shakespeare circa 1585.

This adaptation is a modern one, set in the 1930s and choreographed in a Bollywood style. Paul Taylor 2, the eponymous company founded by the legendary choreographer who died in August, continues the dance theme.

The Royal Gazette spoke with the festival’s executive director T.J. Armand about them both.

Q: Why Midsummer Night’s Dream, a comedy that so many people are familiar with? Why of interest for the 2019 festival?

A: As with any Shakespeare play, there is a timeless element which replenishes itself further with new productions. Taking the 1930s as its starting point, not to mention the new choreography and movement, this is a fresh, new approach to a familiar classic play.

Q: Why did you think it would resonate with a Bermuda audience?

A: We loved the approach taken by the Honey-tongued Theatre Productions and, as past festival attendees will remember, their successful production of Twelfth Night here in Bermuda was a big hit. We are also interested in daring new productions of Shakespeare plays to inspire a new generation of theatregoers.

Q: Does the storyline differ from the traditional in any substantive way? Is it performed in modern or Shakespearean English?

A: I would strongly urge gestival-goers to [watch the video attached to the online version of this story] for a preview. Music and choreography would be the substantive difference and the language is also a mixture of modern and Shakespearean — one really needs to experience the blend with which the narrative is presented.

Q: Tell me a bit about the Shakespeare on the Rock Series, particularly the outreach and scholarship. How will that work?

A: For this play, select high school drama students will be invited to spend an hour with A Midsummer Night’s Dream’s [cast] for an interactive workshop on Friday, January 25 at 10am. Also, we just announced our year-round Student Outreach Programme and Shakespeare On The Rock is big part of it. [It] will enable local high school students to perform abbreviated versions of William Shakespeare’s works and support further studies in the dramatic arts all year round.

Bermuda Festival’s Shakespeare on the Rock Student Outreach Programme will serve as the continuation of the former Bermuda Shakespeare Schools Festival’s programmes, but will have its own programming, guidelines, calendars and procedures.

Since Shakespeare’s plays are part of the GCSE curriculum, Bermuda Festival of the Performing Arts complements the school GCSE requirements by giving students a better understanding and appreciation of the works.

The programme will include student workshops performed at various locations throughout the year. Please contact outreach@BermudaFestival.org for more information.

Q: Bollywood and Shakespeare? Is the mix typical of director Helen Tennison’s work?

A: I would say that Helen Tennison’s work is always unpredictably delightful.

Q: Paul Taylor is legendary but there are so many wonderful dance companies out there. Why did you choose that one?

A: Paul Taylor 2 Dance Company is different than some of the touring companies; their professional dancers are specifically hired to perform the late Paul Taylor’s works, meaning they’re not students or temps as that tends to be the case for a lot of touring dance companies.

When we heard about Paul Taylor’s passing [in August], which happened a few months after we had already booked them, we realised that the show was now to become a tribute and one of the first international performances of Taylor’s works in the new year.

Q: Part of Taylor 2’s remit is community outreach. Will any of that go on while they are here?

A: Absolutely. As outlined in our student outreach newsletter on our website, we encourage students to contact us for the one-hour workshop which will be held at City Hall on January 22 at 10am. It’s free, but with reservations only on a first-come, first-served basis.

Q: One of the performances by Paul Taylor 2 is called Oracle. How does that fit with the festival’s 2019 women’s empowerment theme, She is Art?

A: A solo from Oracle will be performed with our empowerment of women theme in mind. The piece premiered in 1977 and is influenced by Minoan culture — a matriarchal society and civilisation which flourished in the Middle Bronze Age on the island of Crete.

Paul Taylor 2 Dance company added this piece to their repertoire just for us and our theme.

Q: They will also perform Esplanade. Why do audiences find it so fascinating? Is it what Taylor is best known for?

A: I would say so. It’s one of his signature pieces and I specifically asked for it.

In Esplanade, Taylor was fascinated with the everyday human movements: running, sliding, walking, jumping, falling, etc. The work is set in five movements to Bach’s Violin Concerto No 2 in E-flat Major.

Q: Taylor died this year, aged 88. When did he last perform? Choreograph?

A: As his obituary states: “… a surge of interest in the early Nineties by classical ballet companies [not only to restage Taylor’s works but also to commission new choreography] augured a new phase”, which was why Paul Taylor 2 Dance touring company was formed.

Taylor was heavily involved with his work until the very end. He retired from dancing in 1974 but his works as a choreographer will be remembered for ever.

 

Watch Paul Taylor 2 at Earl Cameron Theatre on January 21 and 22 at 7.30pm. A Midsummer Night’s Dream runs there as well on January 25 at 7.30pm and January 26 at 2.30pm and 7.30pm. Tickets are available at ptix.bermudafestival.org