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Lord of the dance

Published 31/01/2013

Anne Hailes




WHY should a young man go into dance theatre? Is there a future? Is there a career path? Is it only for sissies? Yes, yes and no. Professional dancers are athletes, male dancers are masculine, disciplined and spectacular to watch. Last week I visited Sadlers Wells to see Matthew Bourne's Sleeping Beauty and the male dancers were big and brawny and a joy to watch, as was this spectacular production. Now a local company called Maiden Voyage Dance are building a future for young male choreographers and dancers to perform here in Northern Ireland and to tour.

Their production is called Manifesto and features three contemporary dance works, one the dream of Fermanagh's Dylan Quinn based on the recent Pussy Riot case in Russia, Belgian Filip Van Huffel's is fastdynamic precision and Cork born New York-based Luke Murphy choses to rework Nijinsky's ballet Les Noces as a high school reunion.

An outreach programme open to schools and community groups will run parallel to the performances when Maiden Voyage are particularly hoping to engage teenage boys to experience the physicality and power of what is often seen as a female art form and therefore encourage more young men to consider participating in and watching contemporary work.

Dancer Gerrard Martin, who will be performing in Manifesto, has a wide and varied performance background and will work with young men who may have no previous experience of dance and might well make a career for themselves.

As a child in Australia Les Miserables star Hugh Jackman wanted to dance but his brother called him a poof so he played rugby instead.

It was only when the two boys saw the musical 42nd Street that Jackman's brother turned to him during the interval and said: "You should be up there, I said something stupid to you a few years back and I'm really sorry." The young man joined a tap dancing class and has been a musical and film star since.

"I'd say yes, watch 42nd Street to see it's hard work but rewarding." Lionel Blair has no doubt. I talked to him day before yesterday.

"Look at me darling, it's been a great life but tell anyone who's interested, multi-skill, learn to sing and act, it's not just enough to dance, not these days, you must develop other stage talents."

At 82, Lionel's film Run for your Life is about to open in Leicester Square.

"Biggins and I are having a ball. Yes, dancing can lead to a wonderful career."

Francis Foreman is just 25 and finished his fourth season in pantomime at the Grand Opera House last Saturday.

"I'm the youngest of five and when my four sisters went to ballet, at three years of age I went to."

He loved it, the gallops and the warmups but the rest he didn't fancy so he left.

Then at 10 he saw his sister in a jazz dance show thought, I could do that, and enlisted in the local dance school.

He went to tech, graduated and danced on cruise ships.

"It's hard work but I love the interactive experience with the audience in pantomime, when you get something back from the audience its like flying.

It's not an easy life. Francis doesn't know what's next, he'd nothing to go to when he left Belfast but he teaches dance in London so can arrange classes until he gets another audition.

For a dancer preparation is vital, a warm-up to make sure muscles are ready for a gruelling two hours and more of torture, putting his body through extreme movement of muscles, bones, lungs and heart.

Tory Dobrin is artistic director of the Trocks the sensational all male comedy ballet company with selections from 50 ballets in their repertoire both classical and contemporary.

Sixteen dancers from all over the world - Italian, Cuban, from South Africa, France and Spain as well as Americans.

"No-one from Ireland, yet," he says.

That may change when they come to the Opera House in February.

"You have to love dance to make a career of it, no good if you think of it as a project, if you have to force it it's no good.

"It might be hard work but if you enjoy it it's a great joy to be a dancer."

In the age of internet and emails even YouTube clips, he is contacted by prospective dancers from all around the world. Criteria?

"Basically a nice dancer, sense of humour, someone who can play in a team, fits in absolutely," he says. "No diva attitudes off stage but plenty on stage."

If any of the Manifesto men dancers fancy sending their CV to Tory, he'll welcome it.

If there's a vacancy coming up they will be considered.

Send a resume and picture with relevant information and he may see you in Belfast.

Being classical, Trocks men need to be able to do point work, especially as they are famous for the hilarious dance of the dying swan in Swan Lake, you have to see this poor swan, Paul Ghiselin (51), stage name Ida Never Say Never, to believe.

Is it difficult for a man to do point work?

"His physic is very different from a girl, big hands and feet whereas a young girl learns point work when she is learning to dance, our males come to us already trained so this is adding on an extra skill but having strong musculature strength they are not refined and dainty like a female, the male ballet dancers have much more physical attack."

Tory started to dance at the age of 16 so he speaks from experience.

"You have to do what makes you happy.

"Can you imagine going to dance every day when you don't love it?"

Manifesto opens downstairs in The Mac Belfast on Thursday February 7 before touring. Details www.maidenvoyagedance.com

■ ■ IN STEP:: Gerrard Martin