Posts Tagged ‘Cyrano’

Best London theater, 2009

December 19, 2009

While I’ve still got three more shows before the season’s entirely over, I feel confident that I can now get the “what was the best” posts out of the way (complete list of shows here, grand total estimated to be 116). Best dance, best musical/drama are my categories, as well as a few special celebrations and a shaming here and there. Read on …

Discovery of the year: the Southwark Playhouse. A Midsummer Night’s Dream at this small and atmospheric venue blew me away; the shows I’ve seen since have been of mixed quality (the recent and continuing Christmas Carol was a treat to be sure) but never made me feel financially cheated. Generally worth going to “just for the heck of it.” Now, mind you, Royal Court has been crowned “The New Donmar” (affordable prices, adventurous programming) and I’m planning on buying something akin to the entire spring season there, but it was hardly a discovery; it just became noticeable for its greatness this year.

Overdone gimmick of the year: “event” theater with movie or TV celebrities. Please, let’s have less of the classics being butchered by people who can’t act at extravagant prices. I realize this is probably singlehandedly responsible for the fantastic income London theater is experiencing this year, but good theater is not just about filling seats. I feel like seeing Jude Law/David Tennant/Keira Knightly on stage gets people to go just so they can say “ooh ah I was in the same room as INSERT NAME HERE” and does little to encourage the creation of good shows. The Donmar deserves an especial drubbing for going so mad for celebrity casting in their West End season – and what a horrible mistake to waste Judi Dench in that Mishima dog they put on.

Dance performance of the year: Birmingham Royal Ballet’s “E=MC2” (full discussion here) I saw the Royal Ballet many times this year and they just weren’t doing anything this exciting – not really helping the cause of getting ballet into the 21st century and recruiting new audiences so much as sticking with tried and tried and tried and true (“Mayerling” twice in two years, please!). I also give BRB points for “best new story ballet of the year” even though I don’t think Cyrano was new and I don’t think I saw any other new story ballet this year (even though I do try to go see them when I can – well, okay, there was the Wuthering Heights ballet but it seemed more like a thought than a story).

Painful lesson of the year: modern opera, I really shouldn’t bother. Die Tote Stadt, Into the Little Hill, Grand Macabre; I really want to support new opera but unfortunately I think it’s almost entirely unmusical, like it’s designed by academics to adhere to certain structures and generally not to be musical in any way.

Musical of the year: the nominees were: Priscilla, Queen of the Desert: The Musical*; Company; Forbidden Broadway; (the all male) Pirates of Penzance; Silence the Musical. After tossing and turning, debating the hysterical brilliance of Silence (full of hummable, if utterly rude, tunes) and the extravagant, seedy intensity of Pirates, I’ve decided the award goes to … Pirates, which made an arthritic script come to life in a way I truly did not think possible. Rumor has it it’s going to be reprised at Wilton’s Music Hall this spring, though unfortunately I can’t find any information about it on their calendar. That said, Silence: the Musical is going to be done again at the Above the Stag theater – don’t miss out as there’s really little reason for it to be staged again so soon and it really is a hoot.

Best theater blog: I’m not going to list the ones I read (mostly because it’s a short list), but once again the West End Whingers have proven to have the blog that gets me the right hot tips on what shows to see. Sometimes it was a show I’d unimaginatively rejected; sometimes it’s a show I never heard of; almost always it was a show that was on the verge of becoming unattainable. It’s even better now that they have a Twitter feed: getting a line from them to “buy your tickets for Jerusalem now” will send me immediately to my computer. Every now and then we utterly disagree on a show; but mostly they are like having my own private theatrical pimp. I like that.

Show of the year: the nominees were: Entertaining Mr Sloane; Kursk; The Mountaintop; Enron; Cock. (Note absolutely nothing from the Donmar this year, for shame). In a year in which great shows were thin on the ground in comparison to the volume of productions being cranked out, this wasn’t nearly as competitive as I was hoping it would be. Still, I’ve weighed the best of the year (that I saw), and it’s clear: not only as best production but also as best script, Mike Bartlett’s Cock blew me away. Each performance was perfect; the close confines made it all that more intense; the words were exactly what they should be. It’s a damned shame it sold out so fast, but such good theater should never experience a single unoccupied seat for even one night. I can’t imagine it being remounted elsewhere without watering down the impact of seeing this in the round in a tiny (80 person?) house, but this was really just a tiny drop of perfection in a year that was otherwise a bit of a desert.

Right, that’s it for me: 116 shows in one year was probably about thirty more than I should have seen. I don’t even think I’m capable of remembering who the best actor and actress even were anymore. Next year, I’m hanging up my hat and taking it easy; I want 2010 to be a year when I see less shows and more that I like. This will require waiting until the reviews come in so I can more easily identify the productions that will suit me, and might mean that I miss a few that sharper people snapped up sooner – but I think it’s probably the way to go. Even sticking to a budget like I try to do, this year was taxing on my wallet as well as my sleep schedule. See you in the second balcony …

*Actually, Priscilla was never a contender for me. I just put it in there because it seemed like it should have been, especially given how expensive it was.

November Ballet Spectacular – Royal Ballet’s Sleeping Beauty & Mixed Bill (Agon, Sphinx, Limen)

November 18, 2009

Ballet five times in eight days? Why not, I say, why not? And with the highly touted presentation of Birmingham Royal Ballet’s newly choreographed “E=MC2″ (in their “Quantum Leaps” program) and the opportunity to see a fancy (and usually expensive) story ballet from the Opera House stalls for 60 quid (Sleeping Beauty), how could I say no? Then, well, new Macgregor at the Royal Ballet, and a new(ish) story ballet (Cyrano), and, er, a commitment to see the Royal Ballet’s mixed bill program twice, and hey! It could happen to anyone, really.

First, the Agon/Sphinx/Limen triple bill, which I saw twice (Friday November 13th, cast list here, and Tuesday, November 17th,
cast list here). “Agon” reminded me how very difficult Balanchine really is – but only the second time I saw it, when the male dancers failed to hit the right sense of unity, I twice saw people adjust themselves after failing to hit their mark, and the whole thing generally smelt like “work” instead of “dance.” The long duet toward the end was particularly different; whereas on Friday, Acosta seemed somewhat bored and workmanlike as he manipulated his partner through a series of movements (including a “drunk ballerina” sequence in which she keeps falling into the splits and being lifted up again), the same duet seemed forced and uncomfortable Tuesday, as if the dancers hadn’t done it enough to forget about what they were doing and just do it. I felt every technical detail of how to make a catch and how to do a turn was exposed to the naked eye, and I didn’t like it.

On Friday, I got caught up in the weirdness of the extremely late 1950s Stravinsky music and the great deep drums (and – was that xylophones?), though I wasn’t entirely able to get caught up in the experience of the dance due to the off-putting nature of my far right seats (cutting off a quarter of the stage). Still, in retrospect, I realize Friday’s cast was pretty well hitting the mark, though in general I think Pacific Northwest Ballet does this dance better.

“Sphinx” … well. Much as “Agon” was as purely late 1950s as Peggy Guggenheim’s house, “Sphinx” was totally late 70s. The costumes were Tron meets Stargate with some headbands thrown in for good measure, and … God, I saw it twice, and I just found it the most unspeakably pretentious thing I’ve seen since the horrid “Pierrot Lunaire“. There’s a bit where “Anubis” is dancing in circles around “The Sphinx” and “Oedipus,” and I just thought … why why why? Who cares about what they’re doing? Why are they acting like they’re performing in a silent movie? Why does he keep balancing her on his shoulder when it’s so clearly a wiggly place to sit? When is there going to be some dancing that actually matters? Why was this revived at all? The music wasn’t bad but … never again.

Finally, Wayne Macgregor’s new ballet, “Limen,” my last and best hope for great new ballet of the year and the reason why I was at this program twice.

Well. I’m sorry to say, but it looks like David Bintley, about whom I knew almost nothing before this week, has utterly stolen the hot ballet trophy away from Wayne this year. (Let’s be clear: much like the search for the world’s best gelato, the search for the hot ballet of the year is one in which the searcher will always win. Still, I was surprised.) Wayne gave us … er, boxes and lines on the floor, and a cool projection, and good music … but the dance was … kinda out of the same box of stuff he usually uses, the great extensions, the butts sticking out, but without the cool “breaking the boundaries” moves he’s thrown in to spice it up. In fact, with almost no partnering in this ballet, it just felt a wee bit sterile.

Except, of course, for the utterly gorgeous middle bit in which a man and a woman did the most amazing work. Both times I saw the same cast, he black and she white, looking like yin and yang together … the movement utterly enchanting, in some ways almost a response to the Balanchine that opened the evening, making the manipulations worked on the ballerina earlier seem so heavy and coarse … now delicate, lifting, bending, flowing, working together as one, his strength, her grace and flexibility … perfect.

And then it was time for the big black wall with the winking blue lightbulbs to show up and end the dance, and I found myself thinking, “E=MC2 was it, I’m so glad I went, I wish I’d seen it twice”, and bam, the end of the night, the end of the ballet year, let down but glad I’d hedged my bets and run off to see BRB earlier in the week.

The day before my second viewing of the mixed bill I went to see Sleeping Beauty, and I really am just not going to be able to say too much about it as, well, it was dry. I realize this production is some kind of touchstone for the British ballet public but for me I about choked on the dust rolling off of the sets and costumes, which reminded me of some little girl’s room in her grandmother’s house, circa 1950, pastel green on pastel pink on pastel purple BAH. The ballet itself has almost no plot and is just really a set piece for some tricksy dance moves, so if you want emotion and not canned Petipa “let’s show of the technique of the dancers,” then it’s going to be Cyrano for you. Admittedly, even the New York Times’ reviewer criticized Tamara Rojo for her rather stiff Aurora, and perhaps this was part of the problem; I could go “ooh, she stayed on that balance almost until infinity,” but I didn’t really care. It was just like watching … the circus or something. I wanted to be involved, like the way I am when my heart breaks for Giselle, but I wasn’t.

Anyway, in the dances of the various fairies in the prologue, I did get quite a kick out of the technical prowess and charm of Sian Murphy as the “Fairy of the Woodland Glade” (she stands en pointe with her supporting leg slightly bent and does two kicks in front, then pulls up into an arabesque – did I get the fairy right?) – as well as the lightfooted (and charismatic) Iohna Loots as “Fairy of the Song Bird,” and of course I liked the bit with Puss & Boots, and the Big Bad Wolf and Red Riding Hood, and of course (I must say!) the Bluebird pas de deux in the final act … but the damned “vision” scene in the second act was just SO LONG I was running out of energy to be there any more. AAARGH. And I didn’t enjoy the dancing in that scene, either. I mean, I saw this ballet done by Pacific Northwest Ballet the year they debuted it, I didn’t enjoy it then, and still I went back. It’s like I don’t learn. It’s still the same ballet. I might just need to see it with a different ballerina in the lead, though as expensive as story ballets are at Royal Ballet it’s unlikely I’ll go back to see this in less than five years. The fact remains that it needs to be massively freshened up and redone for the 21st century instead of being such a museum piece.

Ah well, but if you look at the net result, of five nights of ballet, I did get something to enjoy every night – but for this round, it was Birmingham Royal Ballet that I enjoyed more, and ultimately David Bintley’s choreography that cranked my chain. I can’t wait to see what 2010 will have to offer!

Review – Cyrano – Birmingham Royal Ballet at Sadler’s Wells

November 13, 2009

Tonight’s Cyrano at Sadler’s Wells was the long-sought for Holy Grail of ballet: a new story ballet that was good. Birmingham Royal Ballet managed to take a play about poetry and turn it into a ballet that … well, frequently was poetry. Perhaps I exaggerate a little, but I can’t remember the last time Romeo and Juliet gave me the sniffles (“Cmon and die already!”), and Cyrano made me weepy at least twice. The music wasn’t really amazing or memorable (though it frequently sounded familiar), but it did the job and was enjoyable; the costumes were good and a nice break from fake renaissance and “modernesque” fluffy skirts and corsets.

But really, it was about the dance, wasn’t it? Elisha Willis came back from a sizzling modern turn in E=MC2 to take on the role of Roxanne, and managed to be both adorable, nimble, and graceful – but, most importantly, to be 100% believable as Roxanne all the way though. You could see why three guys were completely in love with her, and when she twirled and leapt her way through the regiment and then did an Irish step-dance turn on top of a drum, you absolutely bought that all the soldiers were now going to go over the top full of patriotic fervor. Passion, joy, fear, anguish – she had me sold every step of the way. And God, she was pretty, and cute as a butterbean in her “sneak into the battle to see my boyfriend” velvet pantsuit. I will have to make a special effort to see her next time BRB are in town.

I, of course, must now turn to Cyrano, as Robert Parker was hardly offstage the whole night. He managed an incredible upper-body expressiveness – vital when this is how you are “speaking” love letters – and also had great leaps and heart-wrenching solos. But even better, he got to fight duels, which were incredibly fun to watch, and do a love duet with someone who was in love with someone else – all while making me feel bad for him (and not just because his nose fell off after the balcony scene and he had to dance around it for about five minutes) – all while wearing a cape, a wig, and yummy custom boots. What a turnaround from Mayerling – I struggled so hard to care about its lead, but Parker had me bought the minute he kissed a market woman while fighting off a man with his blade.

Most of the “heavy lifting” was left to Iain Mackay in the role of Christian, who had to, again and again, do a Macmillan-esque lift in which Roxanne went over and around his shoulders to land en pointe. After the balcony scene, it looked like he almost dropped her, and in his final scene his arms were visibly trembling as he held her overhead. For all that Parker had to act and dance, there’s no doubt that Mackay was really, really working hard during this show – perhaps a little beyond his abilities. Still, he was compelling in the role of a simpleton, and I found that, like Roxanne and Cyrano, he too had charmed me before the end of the ballet. Damn these dancers and their mad acting skillz! I’m so used to just watching the dance, since when am I supposed to get caught up in the story?

Really, this was such a fun show, with lots of compelling action on stage (such as the “baguette adagio” in the bakery, and of course the duelling, and the very exciting battle scene), so much so that I never looked at my watch once – well, only to make sure I was coming back on time from intermission. My companions Amy, Alice and J also thought it was great. Doubtlessly there have been ballets in which the choreography was more exciting – I sit here still befuddled about people’s enthusiasm for Mayerling – but David Bintley has created something in which we, as the audience, care about the story and the characters. This, then, is a ballet worth watching – and as it’s on for two more days, I advise you go buy your tickets ASAP and make sure every night has a full house.

(This review is for a performance that took place on Thursday, November 11th, 2009. Cyrano continues at Sadler’s Wells through Saturday, November 13th. If you’re skint, there is a half price ticket deal available, but I recommend paying full price if you can afford it, as Sadler’s Wells is an institution that deserves to be rewarded for consistently bringing great dance talent to London.)

Half price ticket deal for Birmingham Royal Ballet’s “Cyrano” and “Quantum Leaps” (short works) programs

November 3, 2009

Today the Metro has a great offer on Birmingham Royal Ballet’s November visit to Sadler’s Wells: £38/£29 seats for half price (these are considered “top price,” same discount applies for a cheaper Wednesday matinee). Available for Quantum Leaps on November 10th and 11th and for Cyrano on November 13th and 14th. Call 0844 412 4300 and quote “Celebrate the City Offer” to book (£2.20 booking fee) – or go to the Sadler’s Wells website and enter “pcdcelebrate” in the promo code field after selecting your tickets to get the discount (£1.50 booking fee). Make sure to pick from the top price ones or you will not get a discount. I consider Birmingham Royal Ballet to be one of the best ballet companies around and highly recommend you take advantage of the opportunity to see these two new works when they come to London.


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