Posts Tagged ‘Zenaida Yanowsky’

Review – Alice in Wonderland – Royal Ballet

March 3, 2011

Alice in Wonderland is not just a favourite book for me, but a favourite theme; for puppet shows, for costume parties, for clothing. It’s like Christmas fairy dust for me: sprinkle some on to whatever you’re doing, and with luck the sparkle will stick. I can’t avoid the call of the Alice any more than some people can wrestle down the attraction of the Olympics or events involving royalty. And thus, in a world in which I love ballet but my hometown team keeps tossing overly-lengthy, spirit-deadening tragedies (Manon, Mayerling) or treacley kiddy fluff (Beatrix Potter, Cinderella) at me, it was with a supernova of excitement I read that the end of winter was going to feature a Royal Ballet, NEW production of Alice. Yippie ki-yi-yay! Top notch dancers, a fat budget, brand-spanking new choreography (always something to be happy about) … my hopes were high!

As usual, I avoided all media coverage before my designated night (including the Ballet Bag girls’ stint as guest Tweeters for the Royal Opera House, although I knew it was happening), so I had no idea that the music was by Joby Talbot, creator of the amazing music that accompanied Wayne MacGregor’s Chroma, or that Simon Russell Beale was apparently doing a Dame (not the red queen thank goodness), but I did know that Chris Wheeldon, founder of Morphoses, was handling the choreography (which Twitter scuttlebutt declared an “audition” of some sort). I didn’t recall being particularly impressed by his choreography on previous outings, but … hey, Alice!

I’m not going to pussyfoot around with a lot of “this is good” and “this is bad” but just get to the meat of it: the first 70 minutes is pants, but the second “half” (50 or so minutes) spanks it six ways to Sunday, so much that it almost seems like two entirely different shows welded together by an intermission. Had, perhaps, Wheeldon spent a year working on “Alice goes to the Queen’s garden” section and completely neglected the rest of the show? The first half managed a fair amount of faith to the text, but the growing/shrinking bit played horribly (too much reliance on projections), the pre-rabbit hold set-up was dull, and Ibi and I were unable to find much in the way of dance for the entire act. Yes, a story was told, yes, there were some great costumes, but, ahem, BALLET. Please to give us the dancing and not just at the very end for the flower dance (which was actually kind of dull).

However, teases of hope were sparked by the delightful handling of the Cheshire cat (proving to me that stage magic is much better created through cardboard and imagination rather than technology) and the brilliant Mad Hatter’s tea party. Fessing up, it was Steve McRae’s tap-dancing hatter that stole the entire first act through the clicking of his hypnotic, metallic toes; I didn’t see what it had to do with the story, but suddenly we had an electric moment on stage and I couldn’t tear my eyes away. It was truly novel and a moment of choreographic genius; and McRae may now be the ideal of the Hatter in my eyes (even though his costume stole a bit too much from Mr. Depps incarnation).

Act Two will forever in my mind be the Dance of the Red Queen (Zenaida Yanowsky), or possibly the Red Queen pas de cinq. The brilliance of this bit is that she is being partnered by four terrified playing cards who are expecting every minute that they are going to be executed. They are afraid not to hold her hand or lift her or turn her, but at the same time they are also clearly revolted by doing so. I’ve never seen such a broadly comic dance like this; it wasn’t coarse like the ugly stepsisters are in Cinderella, but again by upturning the expectations of sweetness (a la the Rose Adagio), it made for some genuine laughs. Whatever else happens to this ballet, this scene alone is a work of genius that I hope I’ll have the opportunity to see again.

As for the rest of the ballet, well, dancing flamingos cute, hedgehog croquet fun, all of the characters chasing each other around the queen’s court dull, Beale wasted, ending returning us to modern times bizarre, Alice’s romance (with the Knave of Hearts, Sergei Polunin) absolutely not in the original and too much of a change for me to accept. Maybe if her duets with the Knave had been more exciting I would have felt differently, but as it is it seems like the romance was introduced to allow for the dances, and they were, well, forgettable. As was almost all of Alice’s dancing. And this is a shame, because Lauren Cuthbertson is no clod-hopping pig herder (stage roles aside), but she, like the production, never had much opportunity to show off her brilliant moves. Still, the second act was SO very much better we about forgave the first. Trust me Mr. Wheeldon; you must let the story take care of itself, as the secret to successful adaptations is to make a work of art that is good in the medium in which it is presented, not to be utterly faithful to the original.. Go back to it, cut and redesign, put Alice in blue and let her dance brilliantly in a shorter first act, and suddenly this ballet will become something we’ll all be cheering for.

(This review is for a performance that took place on Wednesday, March 2nd, 2011. The final performance of Alice will be Tuesday, Marcy 15th.)

Review – Carlos Acosta Premieres – Sadler’s Wells at the London Coliseum

July 28, 2010

Tonight I watched the death of Carlos Acosta as a brand name for a night of brash, exuberant dance as his “Premieres” show at the London Coliseum took me from excitement to horror and then to comedy as I gave in to the ridiculous waves of bad coming off of the stage. We started with a work that must have been choreographed by Carlos himself, because the language of movement he was using seemed incoherent, not just foreign but meaningless. His body moved from position to position, but it never “said” anything, although it seemed desperately trying to find its way into the various spotlights on stage, comically arriving just a few seconds after they came up. The black ottoman on stage that he looked at so passionately, did it represent anything other than an object for him to stare at? The video projection preceding the entire affair added nothing to it and seemed utterly divorced from what followed on stage. I was embarrassed no one had not stopped to question whether or not this piece deserved to be on a stage in front of two thousand people. If this was Acosta’s, I can only say that he is not ready to be doing choreography, and he must up the quality of his game or he is going to lose audience support in droves.

Next up was a solo piece performed by Zenaida Yanowsky, clad in a short dress and tennis shoes. It seemed a better dance, but I’d lost my mental composure because of the first piece and wound up wondering why the choreographer had her flashing her underwear at the audience so much. Normally this kind of thing doesn’t bother me, but I wasn’t able to take it seriously. Yanowsky was much more at ease in this idiom but I remained unconvinced this work was weighty enough to merit a solo performance in such a large house.

The last piece of the first act was another Carlos solo, one which I titled “For the Ladeez” (actually Russell Maliphant’s “Two”) as it was performed shirtless and seemed to be nothing more than an endless series of movements that enabled Acosta to show off his physique. This has become quite the theme in the Acosta shows, making me wonder if he really does have a tremendous ego or if he just feels obliged to give the (heavily female) audience what they paid for. Is it self parody or is it sincere? Because of this element of showing off, I was unable to really enjoy the movement, fearing I was just letting myself have a Chippendale’s moment. (I should have recognized it as Maliphant because of the box of square light Acosta stayed inside, stretching and turning and gliding through its edge – my companion liked this the best and in a better mood I would have enjoyed it more, also.)

Suddenly the first half of the show was over and I dashed to the bar to get started on discussing what we’d just seen (with my friend Ibi). Was it really that bad, or was it just me? And I must point this out to you, potential audience member: how is it that a show billed as being a mere hour and a half even needed an interval? Just what were we paying for? At the price I’d shelled out for stall seats – the only time I’ve ever treated myself at ENO, as I’ve enjoyed my previous Carlos outings so much – I felt like it was thin return on my pound. In fact, I hadn’t seen so little stage time since I saw The Dumbwaiter at Trafalgar Studios (£30 for 55 minutes).

This feeling was solidified in the second half, as we were forced to endure a long “artistic” video involving Carlos and Zenaida: walking in place, splashing and being splashed. Yes, we saw her naked and saw her boobs, but the image of Carlos naked somehow managed to preserve his modesty as neither ass nor crotch were displayed. I noticed that we finally started losing audience members during this bit; the naff levels had been exceeded for the evening. However, it all came together wonderfully as a Python-esque giant foot came down upon the stage, adding a brilliant air of surreality to the event. Ah, well, it was only going to be a half hour at the most, how bad could it be?

The second half did entirely feature all of the best bits of the evening. The highlight was the duet that I’m sure must have been the Maliphant choreography “Two” by Edward Liang (I was too discouraged to buy a program), with Middle-Eastern singing: Acosta was able to show his formidable skills at last. It seemed to me that this was the piece that had been rehearsed the most as well; it just reeked skill and care that Acosta’s solos had not. He had to work with Yanowsky and he was going to do it well, and together they created a few moments that made me wonder what the hell went wrong with this show.

There was also a solo Yanowsky performed with candles on stage that looked nice but didn’t do anything for me, and a last, bad solo in which the ottoman returned as a place for Acosta to sit and sulk, presumably unhappy about the end of his career as a ballet star. In a last moment that did not redeem the evening but which provided a pleasure I clung to desperately, the Pegasus Choir came onstage until they surrounded both Acosta and Yanowsky, filling the stage with lovely music (“O Magnum Mysterium” by Morten Lauridsen) while a bit of smoke wafted toward the ceiling. I imagined it as Acosta’s career dissipating into the sky. He’s been brilliant with the Royal Ballet but after tonight, I can’t help but thing he’s really going to have to rethink his plans if he’s wanting to keep in the game and succeed at making the switch to modern, because after tonight he’s going to have a hard time ever getting an audience to see him simply based on his name.

(This review is for a performance that took place on Wednesday, July 28th. The show continues through Saturday, August 7th and I would be happy to include the names of the pieces from someone who got a program. You can also see the Bolshoi at this time which I highly advise you to consider if you’re debating which of the two you spend your hard earned money on. Or you can see Eonnagata at Sadler’s Wells, it’s going through the 31st and is a very pleasant way to enjoy more of Maliphant’s choreography. For alternate views, see The Stage, the Independent and the Guardian.)


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