After its hugely popular Winter Series with Dusty Button, International Ballet Workshops (IBW) is back with another outstanding guest teacher. The British Ballet Series tours Australia and New Zealand in January, with Ken Ludden, director of the Margot Fonteyn Academy of Ballet in New York.
As with all IBW events, there will be special opportunities and connections on offer for students at the workshops – this time, the chance to help develop – and perform – the premiere of Ludden’s new ballet. At least two of the classes in the British Ballet Series summer tour are already sold out, with others filling quickly.
Dance Informa caught up with Ludden to find out what to expect from his classes at IBW and his advice for being the best dancers we can be.
What are you most looking forward to about teaching at IBW?
“In the professional ballet world, one is always looking for talent. Often very talented young artists never manage to be seen because they live in a remote part of the world, or because they get lost in the shuffle of the millions around the world who participate in serious dance education. The IBW teaching tour will allow me to meet and work with many young artists I otherwise would not have the opportunity to know.”
As part of your time with IBW, you’ll be selecting dancers to be part of a two-week choreographic development and premiere of your new ballet. Can you tell us a bit more about this?
“My new work, Né: Roi (Born: King), is a global effort. I am including dancers from all over the world in the process to honour Margot Fonteyn and the fact that she travelled all over the world. Australia was very important to Margot, and so I want Australian dancers to be part of it.
The workshop offers dancers an experience of being in a professional company, with company class each morning and rehearsals for various sections throughout the day. We will have principal dancers from major companies taking class alongside the dancers and also being in the development rehearsals. This is valuable for the students on many, many levels and will give them a good networking opportunity with artists who are influential in the dance world.
Once they know the work, and have performed it, it opens the door for possibilities, including actually dancing in the world premiere of the work in 2019 or 2020.”
What will you be looking for when selecting students for this?
“The section of the ballet I will be working on with them is a czardas. This dance form alternates between slow, regal and stately movement, and then switches to very fast and spirited dancing. So I will be looking for dancers with a range of ability and who can switch quickly. And also dancers who can have fun dancing, because this dance form is very exciting for the public and really fun for the dancers. There are also many individual mini-solos in the work, so perhaps some of the dancers will be given a solo!”
In your experience, what is special about Australian and New Zealand dancers?
“My only exposure so far to Australian and New Zealand dancers was originally with The Australian Ballet on its Merry Widow tour with Margot Fonteyn, and since then I’ve only worked closely with Joseph Simons, dance students from the Australian Conservatoire of Ballet, a demonstration class in McKay and about a dozen dancers I have hired over the years. What they all have in common is the Australian ‘can do!’ attitude. There is a robustness and sense of excitement that the Australian culture imbues them with. This is an essential ingredient for a dancer to have and places them at an immediate advantage. It is also quite refreshing for a teacher.”
What is your advice to students in terms of getting the most out of a workshop, and what will your IBW classes focus on?
“In a dance career, you are always presented with an array of choreography, teachers and styles. It is important to be open and absorb new ideas and new ways to approach movement. In my IBW workshop, we will be exploring British styles from the 20th century, which include many innovators for their time. The 20th century began with a real Golden Age for ballet with the Ballets Russes and also easier travel via air. This really expanded the influences on dancers, and started the shift to the kind of versatility dancers must have today. So my advice to the students is to take in new information, new movements, new coordination in the body without analysing it.
When dancers arrive in their first professional company, they find that they must shift styles quickly and get it right quickly. This means that the basic technique must be efficient and the dancer able to apply it to new ways of moving easily. When I was at that phase of my dance training, I got all ‘judgy’ about it, often finding fault with the unfamiliar. Margot noticed this and told me, ‘You have to fall in love with some part of the new movement. Find something that feels wonderful, or free, or
powerful in a way and then celebrate that.’ So that is what I recommend.
It is also important for dancers to Google the choreographers and works they will be exposed to. It is so easy to do that. And don’t just Google photos and videos, but learn the history. What seems old fashioned today was in its day revolutionary, and with these ballets the world changed. There was no internet, or even television, until the 1950s. So going to the theatre was something that most of the population did, and it was how they were exposed to new ideas. The more a dancer knows about
the history, the more they know how to approach the movement. At the Margot Fonteyn Academy of Ballet, we have a library with over 6000 books, and our faculty and mentors have vast experience and knowledge. The students must do research projects on the new things they are exposed to. I believe that students of the IBW workshops will be more enriched if they spend a bit of time outside of class exploring British Ballet and the early 20th century.”
What can you tell us about your teaching method/style? What can students look forward to in this regard?
“Margot Fonteyn had to dance hundreds of different ballets, and many were quite modern and innovative for their time. Ashton’s works, for example, used traditional ballet steps in very original ways. Fonteyn also danced works by Martha Graham, Roland Petit, Kenneth MacMillan and others. She developed a way of approaching technique and dancing that is based on what she called ‘recipes of force’, in which you use the pull of gravity, the momentum created by moving a leg or an arm and the forces of the body to create both movement and line. This is amazingly efficient and avoids most injuries. At the same time, it allowed her to get better and better as she matured, rather than become crippled and have to stop by the age of 40. She danced until she was 60!
So in 1979, she sat down with me, and for the next 12 years we developed and organised a way of teaching dancers in the 21st century — essentially her gift to future dancers. So the dancers can look forward to learning how the very basic movements at the barre are applied to the movements in the centre so that they can dance easily, and with certainty.
Fonteyn was also put off by what she called ‘chance dance’, which comes from the dancer not really knowing the proper recipe of force that results in a particular movement. Well, this is what I teach, and the students will learn how principles of movement and force produce classical line and classical dancing. This is very exciting for dancers. And for the younger ones, they will have a new basis for everything they do in class. This doesn’t change anything at all about the method their teacher teaches, only helps them to deliver what their teacher is looking for with more certainty and much more intentionally.”
You’ve had a very diverse and illustrious career thus far. What is an achievement you are most proud of?
“My greatest achievement in life is my two daughters. I am a very proud papa and grand papa! But beyond that, and in terms of dance, my greatest achievement is the fact that I have mastered the universal language of movement. This allows me to travel the world and be able to communicate to every person. Movement is simple, essential and what it expresses are the things all human beings have in common. Through my understanding of movement, then, I have been able to understand that all people are the same, and we are a global family of humans bound together by our humanity. Ballet is the highest form of communication and achievement that exists, and it makes my every moment fulfilled.”
In today’s competitive world, how can dancers stand out in auditions?
“By using their movement to speak to those watching. Don’t just show the audience and jury panels your dancing, but use it to talk to them about the things that bind all humans together. That expression from within is what gets attention, and what wins the heart. Read reviews, and listen to what people say after seeing a magnificent performance. You will see that what is appreciated is when the technique is effective in communicating something to the watcher.”
In your opinion, why is the work of IBW important, and what do students stand to gain from attending?
“When first approached by IBW to do a workshop series, I did my homework and learned about what they do. Immediately, I realised that by bringing teachers from various methods and disciplines to the students, they were providing these young artists with perhaps the most valuable thing they will need when pursuing a career in professional dance – a varied exposure to the many ways dancing is approached in the world. As a company member, there will constantly be guest teachers and
choreographers. These guests will be with the company for a very short time and often are there to put a work on stage. When dancers have the ability to move from one style to the next, and to find their own way of presenting new material, these guests are quite happy. And dancers who have that ability are the ones who move up the ladder in a company. Yes, they must dance brilliantly, but if they didn’t they wouldn’t be in the company to begin with. So as IBW students learn to dance, they are also learning how to be professional, prepared for whatever is presented. IBW offers what is actually needed for students to become professionals.”
Register for the International Ballet Workshops Summer 2018 British Ballet Series at www.internationalballetworkshops.com before it sells out.
Perth: January 5-8, 2018 – The Perth School of Ballet
Melbourne: January 11-13, 2018 – Melbourne Academy of the Arts
Auckland: January 15-17, 2018 – Wellesley Studios
Gold Coast: January 19-21, 2018 – Amanda Bollinger Dance Academy
Sydney: January 26-28, 2018 – The Conlan College
International Ballet Workshops is sponsored by Capezio, Dance Desire and Dance Informa.
“Capezio supports International Ballet Workshops, as they give young dancers the opportunity to develop and excel in their love for dance through the art of professional mentors.” – Kate Ulbrick, sales, marketing and product manager at Capezio Australia