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Gotta sing, gotta dance... music has been at the heart of theatre's success this year

By Western Morning News  |  Posted: December 28, 2012

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A bumper year for Strictly Come Dancing and suddenly everyone has discovered their inner Erin Boag or Anton du Beke.

It seems that our passion for dance shows no signs of diminishing. Luckily 2012 has brought with it lots of opportunities to see live dance performances at the Theatre Royal, Plymouth.

The theatre is one of 19 around the country who form Dance Consortium, established in 2000 to tour international companies in the UK.

It has brought great names from America, Europe and further afield, allowing Plymouth audiences to see the very best in modern dance, often including premieres of new work by top choreographers.

This year Dance Consortium supported a tour which proved to be controversial everywhere it went.

Pro-Palestinian supporters protested at performances by Batsheva Ensemble and hecklers had to be ejected from the Theatre Royal auditorium during the show.

Politics aside, the dance was bold and beautiful, with references to a rich cultural heritage.

There were certainly no protests at performances by Matthew Bourne. He returned to Plymouth in the spring for a reprise of his popular reworking of a classic ballet – Nutcracker!

Matthew has a special relationship with the Theatre Royal, Plymouth, bringing many of his shows here but also choosing to premiere work in the Westcountry.

Plymouth was the chosen location for his new take on the classic, Sleeping Beauty.

He's now so popular that the production can be labelled Matthew Bourne's Sleeping Beauty. It featured the music of Tchaikovsky – a composer much beloved by Matthew after Nutcracker! and Swan Lake – but gave the show a Gothic twist.

Vampiric fairies and heroes in hoodies were the order of the day. Matthew Bourne's Sleeping Beauty is now at Sadler's Wells in London, where tickets are extremely hard to come by.

Matthew isn't the only frequent visitor to Plymouth from the dance world.

The theatre has strong links with two of the giants – Rambert Dance Company and Birmingham Royal Ballet, affectionately known as BRB.

Their work is very different, but they do know what audiences like offering revivals of old favourites and strong new work by top choreographers.

Rambert came to Plymouth in a celebratory mood, with artistic director Mark Baldwin marking ten years at the helm with the deliciously-named Labyrinth of Love tour.

As well as Marguerite Donlon's new work, which gave the show its name, there was also a revival of Merce Cunningham's exuberant 1975 piece Sounddance and Paul Taylor's Roses.

"Someone told me I'm in dancing heaven," Mark Baldwin told the WMN. "Sounddance is my favourite Merce Cunningham work. We're one of the few companies it is ever offered to. And Labyrinth of Love is gorgeous. The programme has an American slant to it and we're delighted to be bringing it to Plymouth."

Birmingham Royal Ballet delighted their fans with a fantastic production of Swan Lake, with a chorus of swans emerging from the mists of the lake. Exquisitely danced and incredibly pretty.

They teamed it with their Autumn Celebration triple bill. Frederick Ashton's The Dream with music by Felix Mendelssohn; The Grand Tour, set to music from Noel Coward and a newly-commissioned work to mark the Olympics – Faster.

When it comes to song and dance, the Theatre Royal also excels with some top touring musical productions, again thanks to building strong relationships with national producers.

In May the Theatre Royal celebrated 30 years since it opened. After a difficult start, it finally got into its stride due, in no small part, to artistic director Roger Redfarn. It was his hit productions of The Sound of Music and South Pacific which put the theatre firmly on the map.

Today musicals are still a highpoint in the calendar and we've been really lucky this year with a whole host of revivals and popular tours.

Sir Cameron Mackintosh, who has worked closely with the Theatre Royal for many years, opened his national tour of the 25th anniversary production of The Phantom of the Opera in Plymouth. The show proved to be so complex that the opening night had to be postponed.

"This new production is a radical departure," Sir Cameron told the WMN. "We started the idea of a different physical production several years ago because it was not practical to move the original production from city to city.

"So this show is about exploring more of the backstage world – it sits in with the Phantom being underground in the theatre. We've been working on this new 'chapter' of the Phantom story for three years.

"It is absolutely fantastic. It feels very visceral. We have created a simply wonderful world where the Phantom lurks."

The musical cavalcade continued in Plymouth with some great productions of The King & I, a faithful revival of the beautiful South Pacific, the uplifting Sister Act, Grease, 42nd Street, Oliver! – another Cameron Mackintosh affair with Brian Conley as Fagin – and Chicago.

My favourite show of the year was a surprise – Leonard Bernstein's Wonderful Town – a show I didn't know at all.

It had a fantastic, sweeping score, was brilliantly staged and starred Connie Fisher as aspiring writer Ruth Sherwood, who arrives in New York seeking fame and fortune.

There has, of course, been plenty of drama big and small in the Theatre Royal and in the smaller Drum Theatre.

The Ladykillers was a comedy highlight for me – a cracking production where the set along got a round of applause.

The Theatre Royal has worked its 30th birthday with a bang. Next year the curtain comes down for refurbishment for several months, ensuring top class entertainment for plenty more years to come.

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