Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Let's Dance: A Conversation with 'Billy Elliot' Choreographer Peter Darling

Billy Elliot the Musical is a glorious celebration of dance – all kinds of dance.

Yes, it’s the story of a young boy who aspires to a career in ballet, which is why people are often surprised to discover the broad movement palette utilized by choreographer Peter Darling. The choreography encompasses tap, hip hop, jazz, acrobatics, and folk dancing; even a pedestrian activity such as walking – no pun intended – is used as a form of expression.

Kylend Hetherington (Billy) in “Billy Elliot the Musical.” Photo by Kyle Froman
That diversity was very deliberate. “I didn’t want to convey the notion that only one form of movement is of value,” says Darling. “I wanted to use as many different forms of movement as possible. We’re celebrating dance; dance is worthy of celebration and all forms of dance can tell a narrative. Ballet can tell a narrative. Tap can tell a narrative.”

Tap fuels the show at least as much as, if not more than, ballet. “Tap is rhythmically exciting and such an expressive kind of dance,” says Darling. “At the same time, it’s synonymous with show business and musicals. And Billy Elliot is very much a musical; it’s not a ballet.”

In most musicals, tap is a rapturous articulation of joy. Often, its raison d’etre is nothing more – or less – than to entertain the audience. That kind of tap exists in Billy Elliot, most notably in the exuberant finale. But Darling also uses tap in a dark and powerful way in the “Angry Dance,” Billy’s response when his father orders him to give up ballet.

“Tap actually lends itself extremely well to anger,” says Darling. “The ‘Angry Dance,’ in a way, is about Billy wanting to stop dancing. But the rhythm in his head keeps on going. If you want to stop your feet from moving, you slam them to the floor. So that’s where the idea came from: Billy would slam his feet to the floor, and there would be a rhythmic element to it. And it went from there.”

The dances in Billy Elliot either advance the narrative or reveal something about the characters. “Born to Boogie” takes place after Mrs. Wilkinson, Billy’s teacher, reads a letter from the boy’s dead mother. Rather than launch into a ballet, Darling upends expectations with a jazzy number. “When you study ballet, it’s non-stop classes,” he says. “It almost feels like wearing a straitjacket. When Billy gets upset by the letter, Mrs. Wilkinson decides to give him a present, to cheer him up. Instead of saying, ‘We’re going to do 24,000 tendus again,’ she says, ‘OK, let’s have some fun. Let me find out how you move.’ So Billy starts to do Michael Jackson moonwalking, and she starts to do a few old steps. It’s a conversation, a fun dance, which is what jazz is.”

Darling infused the ballet choreography with contemporary movement, steps that would be anathema to traditional classical dance. When Billy auditions for The Royal Ballet in the number “Electricity,” the ballet he performs includes street dance, hip hop and acrobatics. “The idea is that The Royal Ballet is looking for young dancers with potential, who are phenomenal movers,” says Darling. “And Billy shows that he’s a phenomenal mover who can also turn three pirouettes.”

That number, more than any other in the show, underscores the beauty and vitality of ballet. “Ballet can be one of the most thrilling things you’ll ever see, because of the amount of training, technique, and strength required to do it. The training enables the body to do things that are phenomenally difficult. You’re able to travel through the air. It’s got a great freedom to it.”

Billy Elliot the Musical @ The Orpheum Theatre September 18-23.

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

How 'bout some more beans, Mr. Taggart?

 This Friday, July 27th, The Orpheum Theatre will host a “bean” drive for the Mid-South Food Bank in conjunction with the screening of hilarious  Mel Brooks’ western classic, Blazing Saddles.

Those familiar with the movie will understand the bean reference. Yet, did you know that there are so many positive nutrition facts when it comes to beans? Let’s start with the amazingly high fiber count. One cup of black beans (2 servings) has more than 115% of your daily value of fiber, which gives beans the ability to satisfy your appetite while seriously burning fat! Beans are also high in protein, which is why vegetarians aren’t the only ones eating beans in lieu of meat. With more than 40 grams of protein in 1 cup of beans, you can see why they top the list of fat burning foods.

When it comes to nutrition facts, beans are where it’s at.  With large amounts of thiamin, folate, vitamin B6 and niacin, beans can provide you and your fat burning efforts with plenty of health benefits to promote wellness. You also get lots of nutrients when you add beans to your diet, including; calcium, iron, magnesium, potassium, phosphorus, zinc and manganese.

Beans have also  proven to provide many health benefits that include lowering cholesterol and preventing spikes in blood sugar. This makes beans even more appealing for diabetics, those suffering from hypoglycemia and a resistance to insulin. Furthermore, the soluble fiber in beans helps reduce your risk of coronary disease and heart attacks.

If you can set aside the sometimes embarrassing side effects of eating beans, you’ll find that the health benefits far outweigh that small problem. Yet it’s the side effects that have made beans the subject matter of countless jokes, children’s songs, and a memorable campfire scene in the Mel Brooks movie, Blazing Saddles. Although Warner Brothers executives asked Mel Brooks to remove the famous campfire scene, he ignored the request and the film became a international success.

Can you imagine the Blazing Saddles without the beans?  Can you imagine your pantry without beans? Sadly, many Mid-South families can.

But you can do something to help.  This Friday night, bring a can of beans to The Orpheum’s showing of Blazing Saddles and you’ll save $2 off the price of admission while also helping The Mid-SouthFood Bank stock the pantries of needy families in our community. Donations are often slow in the summer, and every can helps fight hunger in the Mid-South. 

The Mid-South Food Bank fights hunger through the efficient collection and distribution of wholesome food and through education and advocacy. It serves a network of partner agencies that includes food pantries, soup kitchens, shelters, youth programs, senior programs, rehabilitation centers and other charitable feeding programs. The Mid-South Food Bank has distributed 10.3 million pounds of food and other groceries in its 31-county service area in 2011. For more information, please visit www.midsouthfoodbank.org.

Blazing Saddles @ The Orpheum this Friday, July 27th. Doors open at 6:15 PM for pre-movie fun.

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Inconceivable!... Rob Reiner's Fan Favorite Fairy Tale Celebrates Silver Anniversary & Makes Orpheum Summer Movie Premiere this Friday

Scale the cliffs of insanity, battle rodents of unusual size, face torture in the pit of despair, and join Princess Buttercup and Westley on their spell-binding journey to find true love when The Princess Bride makes its Orpheum Theatre summer movie debut this Friday, July 20th. A classic fairy tale complete with heroes, villains, trickery, mockery and death-defying miracles,  The Princess Bride captures audiences young and old with its brilliant, memorable dialogue, enchanting story line and bewitching characters. This year marks the film's 25th anniversary of its debut in 1987.

From celebrated director Rob Reiner (The Bucket List) and Oscar®-winning screenwriter William Goldman (Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid) comes "an enchanting fantasy" (Time) filled with adventure, romance and plenty of "good-hearted fun" (Roger Ebert).  Featuring a spectacular cast that includes Robin Wright (Forrest Gump), Cary Elwes (No Strings Attached), Mandy Patinkin ("Homeland") and Billy Crystal (When Harry Met Sally). Click through to see the cast then and now!