It’s ballet in the garden

JSLN Dance Company performing at Byre in the Botanics.
JSLN Dance Company performing at Byre in the Botanics.

With less than a week before St Andrews Botanic Garden is transformed into an outdoor theatre, artists, staff and contractors are gearing up for a summer of fabulous shows in the garden.

It’s Byre in the Botanics, the popular theatre’s first venture outside its own walls, with a programme featuring theatre, opera, dance, film, music and more – and all in the open air.

The Byre is taking the opportunity to bring shows that the theatre is too small to accommodate to St Andrews, while the Botanic Garden is hoping to attract new visitors.

Les Miserables star Samantha Barks kicks off the six-week festival on Thursday (June 30) coming to the town for her only Scottish date at the end of a UK tour.

“I am looking forward to St Andrews – apparently it’s the most beautiful venue,” she told the Citizen, “and it will be a special place to end the tour.”

Her performance heralds a weekend that is focused on dance.

Internationally acclaimed Berlin dance company JSLN will do two performances of their triple-bill Variations of Pointe over next weekend.

Soren Niewelt, the classical ballet company’s artistic director, explained: “All the work we do is neo-classical and there are three different pieces within one evening.

“We want to attract a wide range of people and speak to more people – everyone will walk away having enjoyed one of the pieces,” he promised.

And there is a piece especially for this country: “Because we are touring the UK we thought we would do something that people would recognise,” Soren continued, “so we have turned ‘Allo ‘Allo into ballet.

“It is trying to put a bit of a twist on ballet so it can be entertaining as well as being art.”

The company is looking forward to performing outside: “An outdoor performance is always very inspiring,” Soren said, “but it is a little bit harder – because it is the summer, in the light, you can’t hide much!”

JSLN’s performances on Friday and Saturday are prefaced by films with strong dance themes – West Side Story on Friday afternoon, and Billy Elliot on Saturday. Shown on a giant screen, admission to the films is free for those attending the ballet.

The festival continues with a Shakespearean them for weekend two, marking the 400th anniversary of the Bard’s death.

There will be a screening of Much Ado About Nothing from the Globe, followed by a performance by one the best jazz singers in the country today Jacqui Dankworth.

She’ll be reprising the musical setting of Shakespeare’s poetry from Shakespeare And All That Jazz, composed by her father, the late Sir Johnny Dankworth.

There’s traditional music, too, with appearances from award-winning Scottish five-piece Breabach and the ever-popular Capercaillie, fronted by Karen Matheson’s glowing vocals.

Fifers Barbara Dickson and Rab Noakes also put in an appearance when they team up for an evening of folk songs.

Audiences can join in during the festival – try the ceilidh scheduled for just ahead of Breabach, or the waltzing lessons that will take place before the OperaUpClose company takes to the stage with a new English version of Carmen.

There are events for the kids, too, with the opportunity to see The Lion King on the big screen as part of a fun afternoon of face painting and arts and crafts.

Audience members heading for a double bill at the Botanics need not worry about getting hungry – special picnic hampers, with or without Champagne, can be ordered in advance, Jannetta’s ice cream will be available, and weather permitting the BBQ will be fired up.

And although it’s an outdoor festival, there will be cover and proper seats available, but plenty of space to set up your own picnic area.

Byre in the Botanics continues every weekend until the end of July – more at www.standrewsbyreinthebotanics.com.