Straight backed, long necked, toes turned out

9th February 1996 at 00:00
NETWORK '96 Royal Ballet National Tour Sheffield, Bath High Wycombe, London

I'm bilingual. I speak in classical and contemporary dance, explains Royal Ballet guest choreographer, Emma Diamond, to 200 primary and secondary students at Hayesfield Upper School, Bath. The project is part of the Royal Ballet's Network '96 education programme. It coincides with Dance Bites, the Royal Ballet's nationwide tour of new works, and kicks off with lectures, demonstrations and dancemusicdesign workshops.

There are similar projects in Sheffield and High Wycombe, and they all feed into a massive London show next year. In Sheffield, schools are working with trainee music teachers at Bretton Hall college to produce a dance and music performance at the city's Lyceum Theatre on March 22.

Back in Bath, using Royal Ballet dancers as living material, education officer Rachel Lightfoot highlights features of classical ballet since its birth in the court of Louis XlV. Clad in a chiffon practice skirt, straight-backed and long-necked, legs turned out to enhance leg extension, sylph-like Tracy Brown walks on to the floor. Her arms move through an elegant semaphore to demonstrate the curved arm carriage necessary to sweep wide-skirted dresses.

Christina McDermott dips "pointe" shoes in rosin to perform a spirited solo from Swan Lake. Brown catches her breath to glide into the White Dance from Les Patineurs, partnered by powerful Christopher Saunders twisting her upside down in the flurry of a skating party.

Emma Diamond investigates modern characteristics: fluid back, turned in or parallel bare feet. Her aim is to merge the classical model with "new" dance, reflecting a more equal male-female conversation in which a woman could support a man.

Her work Signed in Red deals with the challenge of a dancer's hazardous, obsessive training. With delicate nerve, she maps out "the washing machine section, leading into a croissant lift" on dancers entwined like Krishnas. "Imagine the man's hand as hot coals; snatch yours away from a hot radiator. Pull off your arm like breaking magnets on a fridge door," she tells the dancers, who whirl into a staggering fall.

Anthony Bourne dives into a comic solo from Macmillan's Mayerling, rehearsed with a top hat circus trickster. His nifty performance belies the nightmare of juggling props, music, steps, first night nerves and butterfingers. Bourne has a carpentry business; others teach and bring up children. Learning steps "is like learning Maths or French. After doing it for 15 years, three to four hours a day, you end up not thinking; you develop a muscle memory," he says.

A creative dance session sees a frieze of young dancers "buried in sand". Brown demonstrates her classical make-up that, close up, resembles a painted doll. "On stage, big wigs and lighting tend to make eyes and expressions disappear," she explains.

Down the corridor, a "Wall of Sound" game emulates a syncopated train. "We're going to become a human sampler," says musician Jonathan Petter. "Let's go for a spooky mood. Think evil. When I press the button, scream!" He pierces a nervous silence to orchestrate sounds of wind, threatening laughter, the odd stamp.

Using a scaled model box, designers Bernadette Roberts and James Cochrane describe vital elements of set design. They produce rolls of brown paper to be transformed into Sleeping Beauty costumes. "Don't make them restricting; keep them flexible and balanced. Don't forget backs! Dancers are always turning. "

Squeals of laughter emerge from students standing on tables, ripping, cutting and stapling, gift-wrapping each other in bunched ball gowns with ruched sleeves, sticky taped jodhpurs, epaulettes and helmets, high collared cloaks and lilac fairy wings. "Ten minutes of madness left," shouts Bernadette, as human parcels rustle and splutter.

Signed in Red: 2-week Dance Bites tour from March. Royal Ballet Education Department: Royal Opera House, London WC2E 9DD. Tel: 0171 212 9410

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