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Being ‘Together’ through the Arts

30 Jun 2021

Isabelle Charrot-Grinsdale

Head of Arts

 

This year, we’ve championed the idea of being ‘together’. As a music and performing arts team, we reflected this in our Winter Showcase and then highlighted how we work together in the arts in our Huili Arts Festival. 

This summer, we’ve celebrated this togetherness through the 100-year Anniversary of the CCP Mini-Programme, the Summer Concert, the House Music Festival and finally with the musical theatre production of Lionel Bart’s 'Oliver! JR'.

 

 

The 100-year Anniversary of the CCP,

the Summer Concert and House Music Festival

 

To celebrate the 100th anniversary of the founding of the CPC, Huili Arts showcased the Chinese Drama Group’s award-winning performance of the play, The Age of Awakening. 

 

▲The play‘the Age of Awakening’

 

This performance won the grand prize at the ‘Red Scarf Towards the Party’ drama exhibition activity organised by the Pudong New Area Youth Work Committee, and won the third prize in the 2021 ‘Eagle Cup - Red Scarf Towards the Party’ drama exhibition held by Shanghai Youth Work Committee.

 

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▲The Orchestra's performance of Not Forgetting the Beginning

 

More success in this exhibition activity came from our Huili Orchestra's performance of Not Forgetting the Beginning which won the second prize in the Western Music Special Performance of the 17th Pudong New Area Students' Art Exhibition. We complemented the performance from our Chinese Drama Group with our guzheng performers and Chinese dancers.  Then, immediately after came the Summer Concert. The Arts team worked collectively for the semester on the programme items from our ensembles, checking in with one another and advising or supporting each other to make sure the items happen to the highest possible quality.

 

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Knowing we were championing the idea of being ‘together’, our repertoire selection was designed months in advance. So, to do this we considered the current skill level of our performers, then aimed to find the balance between stretching them with challenging repertoire or choreography whilst also making sure we can be ‘performance-ready’ by the critical concert date. I’m steadfast in believing that rehearsals should feel ‘high-challenge, low stress’.

 

The students did a fervent job of rallying their peers and getting them excited about the House Music Festival. Our brilliant FoH members coordinated this event, working tirelessly to ensure students had a chance to shine. We had so many performers come to ask our advice about song choice or instrumentation or just get curious about what they could present. There was a real ‘buzz’ in school about what was happening.

 

Finally, over 70 performance programme items had been entered for the music festival! What a potential feast of music and dance and poetry! It was brilliant to see parents and families signing up to perform alongside students from all grades.

 

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Meanwhile, the whole staff body encouraged students to put their name down to perform. Form tutors agreed to perform with their students and the music team hosted morning, lunch and after school rehearsals where possible for participants in our practise rooms, advising what could be improved and suggesting ways students could make performances ‘big-stage ready’. Meanwhile, Arts Captains disseminated information about equipment and the available stage space and helped organise rehearsal spaces were possible. We were working towards this event ‘together’. Even after the music festival finished, keen students stayed a little longer to assist in returning instruments and costumes to classrooms. Staff members organised student pick-up or cleared equipment away. It felt like the night shouldn’t end…

 

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All Huili pupils, teachers and staff, together with the Huili community joined as one and came together through music. As the festival continued and the daylight started to dim, the atmosphere changed, this time to a full-on outdoor festival. Colleagues told me with fondness how much the vibrancy reminded them of classic festivals such as Glastonbury – and the rain helped with this idea!

 

 

The school musical theatre production

Lionel Bart’s 'Oliver! JR'.

 

 

We finish off our arts events for the year with our musical theatre school production. What is so lovely about Lionel Bart’s 'Oliver! JR'. is that it has it all. Great characters our young performers can enjoy playing, lots of parts, challenging roles for high-ability students and a good sized ensemble. It’s funny and touching and it boasts one of the best-known and well-loved Tony award winning musical scores in the business.

 

We see some classic archetypal characters that cross genres and theatre history in this musical. Fagin, for instance, echoes the earliest Pantalone character from the 16th century Italian art form, commedia dell‘arte. The Artful Dodger parallels the Arlecchino role from the same genre. From the villainous, violent Bill Sikes to the ridiculous Mr. Bumble, Lionel Bart takes Charles Dickens’ classic novel and gives us a slice of Victorian London with an array of characters therein. 

 

Our story, albeit set in England, harks of an idea that is repeated across the theatrical canon of works: that humans are connected the world over. Indeed, our vivacious Culture Week in school has just reminded us of this in a glorious fashion. At Huili, our school experience reminds us of this every day. So, what better way to self-examine ourselves than through the vehicle of art?

 

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To achieve excellent performance in musical theatre, we’re training our performers to be able to ‘do the triple’ – act, dance and sing. It’s rare to find students who can comfortably use all of these skills if they are still very new to performing in musical theatre. BUT. Our students continue to surprise us. They continue to impress us with their commitment and energy. They have huge potential and they’re growing all the time.

 

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What we have seen from our students during preparations for this musical is a much more relaxed attitude to tackling new material. We’ve also enjoyed observing students from different grades more immediately mix and form strong bonds as they work towards a common goal. We’re challenging them with big ensemble numbers, difficult vocal passages and, moreover, they have been doing all of this in English. It’s an impressive feat, and one that I’m immensely proud of. Congratulations, Huili young performers!