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What on Earth!?

Scottish Dance Theatre presents a new work specifically designed for young people aged 5 – 11. Combining dance theatre and animation What on Earth!?  takes you on a curious nocturnal journey full of surprise encounters with strange flora and fauna. 
This dynamic and playful adventure, with generous helpings of music, dance and animated worlds, creates a brilliant experience for all the family.

What on Earth!? promo video
Get a sneek peak at What on Earth!? here!

from What on Earth!? Animator Graeme Hawkins aka Retchy.

Find out when we're performing What on Earth!? at a venue near you by clicking here.

Click here if you'd like a copy of the script for What on Earth!?

Find out more about the people who made What on Earth!? by clicking the links below.

Image from Scottish Dance Theatre

The Dancing
Image from Scottish Dance Theatre

The dancing in What on Earth!? was choreographed by Sally Owen and Janet Smith.

 Find out how Sally and Janet came up with the idea for What on Earth!?.

I can’t remember exactly where our ideas started. I know we are both interested in our planet Earth and its amazing life and environments both big and small. Also we have worries that human beings do not look after these wonderful things as well as we should. We didn’t want to tell an existing story so decided to make our own story with little ‘pods’ of dance. These became ‘awake’ pods or ‘dream’ pods. Pods gave us the freedom to follow lots of ideas.

 Janet and I talked a lot about what we were interested in and how we could make a show together although we have different ways of working. We had great fun brainstorming ideas around planet earth and talking about dream worlds. We didn’t want to tell a story that had been told before but discovered a series of dream places that the five performers could move through. They could be the dreams of one or more characters. It was very exciting to find that we could work together as choreographers and that our different approaches complimented each other.

The Animation

The animation in What on Earth!? and the illustrations on the posters and flyers were done by Graeme Hawkins. Here is an example of Graeme's work; the Bat Documentary from What on Earth!?.  You can see more of Graeme's work on his blog www.retchy.com.

What On Earth!? - Bats! from Retchy on Vimeo.


Here's how Graeme became an animator and how he made the animations for What on Earth!?.

I can remember wanting to be an animator from about the age of 10 or 11 when my Dad bought me a book called The Art Of Animation.  I was really into all the hand drawn Disney films that were about when I was a kid, like The Lion King and Aladdin, where the animators had to draw every single frame (that’s 24 frames for every second of the film!). 

That ambition to become an animator stayed with me until it was time to decide on a university course after school, so I went to Duncan of Jordanstone College of Art and Design in Dundee to study animation.    They were really good at teaching the fundamentals of animation, such as anticipation and recoil.  Say someone is throwing a ball – in its most simple form, the anticipation of that movement would be the hand and arm moving backwards in order to gain enough momentum to be able to throw the ball a decent distance, and the recoil would be the movement of the arm and body as it returns to its normal resting position.  These principles can be applied to many different kinds of movements and styles of animation and can really help even the most simple ideas come to life.   It turned out, when I went to DoJ, that I wasn’t really that good at the traditional Disney style of animation.  It requires a lot of patience and skill and I prefer to have a more immediate outcome (although it still involves lots of hard work!).

A technique I used quite often for What On Earth!? was to draw images onto see through paper (such as the bubbles in the swamp animation) and project them with an overhead projector onto my living room wall where I would move them about and film them with a camera.  It’s a really quick way to get movement and you only have to draw everything once!  You can make it more complicated by combining two (or more) different moving images together to create a sequence – the bubbles in the swamp, for instance, would float up to the top of the water and then change to an image of the bubble bursting so it looks like part of the same sequence (you can see how that works here ).  

So you can really have fun playing about with these kinds of ideas as an animator, but it’s always good to have that knowledge of the fundamentals that I talked about earlier, even if you end up just playing around with acetates – have a look for that subtle little bit of anticipation before the bubbles burst in the swamp animation…

The Costumes and the Set
Image from Scottish Dance Theatre

The costumes and set were designed by Becky Minto and were made by the wardrobe and production departments at SDT's home Dundee Rep Theatre.

Here's how Becky became a designer and how she designed the costumes and sets for What on Earth!?.

When I was a young girl I spent a lot of time at ballet and drama classes and was always very excited, yet nervous when the time came to go on stage. I was nervous of performing but excited by the scenery, the costumes and the amazing lights that would colour the stage.

Years later in my late teens my Grandmother heard of a Degree course at The Welsh College of Music and Drama where you could train to design costumes and scenery for the stage. I applied, won a place and went to study for 3 years. Now with children of my own I am still very lucky to be designing sets and costumes for the stage and I still get excited when they appear on stage.

As a designer you work with the director to create the right visual look and atmospheric feel for the performance. I will research lots of ideas and spend time in rehearsals before we decide on the right idea. Once that has been decided I will make a scaled model, which looks exactly like what the actual stage will eventually look like, but much smaller. This helps the director, performers, lighting designer and stage management to have an idea of the space. From here we will choose the right backcloth, called a Cyc and the colour of the dance floor.

For pieces of furniture, such as the bed, I would provide a drawing for the carpenter with all the measurements required. I would also work with stage management to decide on the look for any props, such as the balls and the bat.

Next are costumes, it is important when thinking about costume to spend time watching the dancers to see how they move so that choices about the style and flexibility do not inhibit the performance of the dancers. Once the costumes have been designed I work with the wardrobe department in choosing the right fabrics for the costumes. The dancers are measured and the costumes are cut out and sewn together. The costumes are then fitted on the dancers to make sure everything fits perfectly and any adjustments are made before rehearsals on stage.

Finally when the set elements are fitted onto the stage and the dancers are in their costumes then the lighting designer and animation artist add colour and magic to complete the picture. Hopefully a wonderful atmospheric world has been created for the dancers to perform in and for the audience to enjoy.

Picture:  Becky works with Dancer Solène on her costume.

Other people who worked on What on Earth!?.

What on Earth!? choreographer Sally Owen gives us a run down of all the other people who helped bring What on Earth!? to life

SDT Dancers

Give one small seed of an idea to the dancers and see the amazing results! During a rehearsal two of the dancers put on yellow rubber gloves that I had bought in Tesco the previous weekend. Instead of putting them on their hands they put them on their feet and abracadabra…invented a strange water bird.

We have asked the dancers to do some very silly things!

There are five dancers in each performance of What on Earth!?.  You can click here and try and find which dancers were in the performance you saw!

Emma Jones, Lighting Designer

Emma is the person who brings the worlds of the choreographers, designer and animator together with her lighting design. It is a difficult and delicate job but the result is a very exciting moment.

Amy Steadman, Stage Manager

Amy has been given the job of finding or making some of the objects that we use in the show. Her latest task is to make a bigger and better flying bat…yes, that is the animal kind of bat! We are quite excited about finding a name for our bat puppet.

Colin Lowson, Sound Technician and Sound Recordist
Kevin Lennon, an Actor who talks in the Bat Documentory.

Janet and I have worked with lots of different music and sound effects. Colin has the job of putting it all together. Most of the music and sound already exists but Colin and I recently borrowed Kevin Lennon who is an actor with Dundee Rep Theatre’s Acting Company. I asked Kevin to try being David Attenborough for a mini animated documentary as part of What on Earth!?. Dundee Rep has an amazing wardrobe packed with row upon row of hundreds, no probably thousands of costumes. We found ourselves in amongst these rows recording Kevin’s voice. The costumes make a wonderful and very effective soundproof box so you only hear Kevin’s voice and no background noise. The animation to go with Kevin’s voice is one of my favorite moments in the show. It is quite scary!!!!!


If you would like to learn to dance you can contact the following people who can help you find the right dance class for you, in your area.

Dundee -  Scottish Dance Theatre / Dundee Dance Partnership

Edinburgh – Dancebase 

Glasgow – Dance House

Glasgow – YDance

Aberdeen – Citymoves

Inverness – Eden Court

Stirling – macrobert

 For a list of the national dance hubs invloved in Big Dance 2012, Click here.


Looking for the answers to the quiz?  Click here!

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