Archive for October, 2008

Review – Spyski, or, The Importance of Being Honest – Peepolykus at the Lyric Hammersmith

October 31, 2008

As this show is closing its run November 1st, I’m going to write just a brief review.

Peepolykus are very silly and their shows make me laugh, and I was very excited about going to the Lyric Hammersmith to see their latest, “Spyski, or: the Importance of Being Honest.” Even though every bit of this show was a big pile of gags, they still managed to create interesting characters and win me over emotionally as well as making me laugh. This, plus the silly visuals (the bunk bed that turns into a disco?) that take “low budget” and turn it into an asset made for a fun evening. I couldn’t help thinking as a “whup whup whup” noise sounded overhead and a handbag was lowered from the sky of the overblown nature of “Miss Saigon” – why have a real helicopter when you can have people see a much better helicopter in their minds? In addition to all this, the story did a nice job of blending in elements of “The Importance of Being Earnest,” which was fresh in my mind after seeing it at the Vaudeville earlier this year, and they get extra points for including David Bowie’s “Kooks” at the end – one of my very favorite songs. In short: a fun show, well worth the very affordable ticket price, and I’m here, as sent by the cast, to warn you via my blog: we must be horses and not sheep! Only the true power of the theater can save people from the mindless obedience encouraged by the government!

(This review is for a performance that took place on Thursday, October 30th, 2008.)

Review – Now or Later – Royal Court Jerwood

October 28, 2008

Just saw a fantastic play at the Royal Court Jerwood, Now or Later by Christopher Shinn – a play which is receiving a world premiere at this venue (or did a month ago). Wow! When do new plays ever hit the ground this topical and this good? It’s set on election night in America, where the Democratic candidate’s son is holed up in his hotel room watching election results with his best college buddy. As the results come in, news of a scandal is unfolding – pictures of the son dressed as Mohammed at a campus party are showing up on the internet. Will he apologize for being offensive? Will he stand up for his right for political expression? Will his dad ever actually talk to him? Will anyone treat him like he’s something other than a tool his parents use to further his father’s political career?

I had never been to the Royal Court before (the plush seats reminded me of sitting in my dad’s ’69 Pontiac Bonneville, if it had had a brown interior instead of a white one), and starting off our relationship with this play was really just setting up a standard I can only hope the Jerwood can maintain. Eddie Redmayne (as John Junior) was very good, though he had a bit of a strange American accent and seemed to be playing up the mental instability a bit. Nancy Crane, as mom, really had the plasticky-fakeness of politicians down straight. John Senior (Matthew Marsh) seemed to be trying to hard to come off as a “type” (the way he was wiggling his hand by his side just seemed like something he’d seen on TV but not managed to make seem natural for his character), but as he slid into his interaction with John Junior the two of them were positively electrifying, rather like watching the climactic scene of Frost/Nixon. Never have 75 minutes gone by so fast.

I was referred to this by the WestEnd Whingers (really just the best theater blog out there if you’re looking for hot tips for shows to see, or warnings for turkeys), and I am really grateful to them for pointing me in the very, very right direction. Its brevity made it a play that was easy to squeeze into a weekday evening, yet good enough that it managed to lighten my mood after a rather crummy day at work. It’s been extended to November 1st, though tickets are a bit hard to get – try SeeTickets as the venue has almost no availability. It’s your last chance – see it while it’s hot!

Review – Creditors – The Donmar

October 22, 2008

It is not often that a night at the theater leaves me feeling a little breathless, but last night’s trip to the Donmar did – it was an outstanding combination of a powerful script, absorbing acting, and an environment intimate enough to make it all feel real. Creditors was fantastic. It’s hard to believe that before the show I was thinking about not going because I was so worn out!

I’ve never seen a play by Strindberg before, and the only way I can describe him is “like Pinter, only with all of the words.” There were only three characters – Tekla (Anna Chancellor), her husband Adolph (Tom Burke), and the mysterious Gustav (Owen Teale). The program notes advised us to see them not as characters, but rather as archetypes, which worked well – I was reminded of Albee’s Sandbox and of No Exit when observing their interactions, which seemed hyper-real, especially in the first scene, in which a mysterious man, Gustav (a doctor? a figment of the imagination), counsels Adolph about his life. He’s already convinced Adolphe that his artistic career is meaningless, then proceeds to completely and utterly tear him apart. How does he know so much about Adolph? How is he able to hone so perfectly into his weak spots? His knowledge of the man seemed unreal. Gustav was also possessed of an unbelievable misogynism. While I could believe the character could see a woman as “a blank page upon which the husband writes” (it seemed fairly typical of other 19th century drama, Ibsen in particular), his foray into the repulsion of women’s “hemorhaghing 13 weeks out of the year” and “having bodies that are that of a fatty, slovenly youth” (paraphrased) were just too much for me to digest. On the other hand, Adolphe’s nearly pornographic sculpture of his wife – on her back with her legs spread – was also just too much for me and made it hard to not burst out laughing. This was Adolphe’s ideal? He seemed to be rather humorously focused on her crotch. Ah, the Victorian psyche – who knows what made them tick!

As the play continues, we have Adolphe tear into Tekla, followed by Tekla and Gustav going at each other, and all of it ending in a glorious menage at the end – a wonderful celebration of the way human beings get to know each other so well through the bonds of love that they well and truly aquire the power and knowledge they need to completely destroy each other, mentally and physically. Chancellor is electric as Tekla, managing to be flirty, disgusted, loving, seductive, hateful, and very much her own woman throughout the show. Gustav seems rather a bit too mental … but provides a great foil for the rather evil (and certainly hateful) Adolphe. It all reminded me of Rosmersholme – and what a failure I consider that play to be, with its ultimately weak characters and over the top storyline. If only it had been as succinct as Creditors!

I was surprised to see the Donmar as sold out as ever for this evening and with standing room seats taken yet again – can this place ever produce a bomb? And who’d have suspected Alan Rickman of such directorial depths? For its 90 minute running time, it’s well worth standing through. That said, I must thank the West End Whingers for a heads up on getting tickets for this great show, which I consider to be the second best thing I’ve seen on stage this year. (Noel Cowards’ Brief Encounter is still my favorite, and it’s still running for a few more weeks – why not see them both?)

(This review is for a performance that took place on Tuesday, October 28th. Creditors runs through November 15th.)

Review – “Zorro” (the musical) – Garrick Theater

October 16, 2008

Also known as “The Boots of Zorro” if you were so unfortunate as to be sitting with us in the back of the stalls. Entire songs were sung during which we mostly only saw Zorro’s feet!

While this was a really fun show, I’d like to warn people off of the bad seats. While my £23 tickets from LastMinute were perhaps appropriately priced for what I got (and it was still entertaining all the way back in the crap seats), I was personally embarassed when I realized I’d bought seats that hid about a third of the action (we could only see about seven feet up from the floor of the stage, and much is done in the upper levels of the set, such as Zorro flying in on ropes and such, and people singing and talking to people elsewhere). I thus looked about to confirm which seats are crap so that you can know what you’er getting into – I mean, it’s not really a “half priced” seat if there’s no way in hell you would have paid £55 for it in the first place, right? So:

Row Q back to Z: rotten sightlines, 1/3 of the production is not visible.
L forward decent, except on the far sides: avoid H 1-3 and 21-23, and K and L 1-4 and 20-23 – these are obstructed by the overhang.

Anyway, grousing aside: Zorro is basically a staged B movie, with bonus flamenco music and some very English panto-y songs tossed in. It is not deep, it is not attempting to copy any movie version I know of, it is not trying to Phantom or Cats, and there’s not a lot of concern about historical accuracy (and, my God, the very English pronunciation of “Los AnGuhLeez” by the “Alcade” at the beginning of the show made me laugh – it was like listening to Bugs Bunny).

The songs are mostly forgettable (other than the one about how women “like a man who can thrust”), but the flamenco is actually quite decent for staged (i.e. non-improv) stuff and, combined with the quite good Flamenco singing (something I seriously did not expect), really added a lot to the show. (I quite like Flamenco and was expecting the worst, but my only real complaint was the costuming not being right for the music.) They even found a way to make it make sense to have Flamenco (and gypsies) in a show set in California – they came over from Spain with Zorro! The dancing overall (which had far more than just flamenco) was fine enough, though occasionally it veered into bad Martha Graham slash Pat Benatar music video territory.

I must say, though, that the cast really made this show in a way that surpassed all of the cheese elements and turned it into a really good night out. Matt Rawle, our Zorro, had that Johnny Depp “yum” factor that made me think the movie could really have been so much better. His swordplay wasn’t so great, but hey, I blame the person who designed the fight, not him. Emma Williams as romantic lead Luisa was fun – she managed to not get into the whiny prude element of the character (whew!) (and had a bit of a Grease/Sandy makeover at the end of the show), and masked her lack of Flamenco skills well enough by being carried over the heads of the other characters during a key scene.

My favorites, though, were Nick Cavaliere as “Garcia,” the nerdy guy working for the bad guy, who started off looking like a spineless bootlicker but displayed more roundess as a character (rather than just pulchritude) as the evening wore on (as well as providing the most comic moments). Head scene stealer was Inez (Leslie Martinez), whose gypsy bad girl was just a pile of fun to watch. I don’t think she is a brilliant dancer, but she definitely showed star power and made the night a good one. Without these two characters, who could have been played/written in a very two dimensional way, the show would never have been such a good time.

If you’re considering seeing this, I would encourage you to do so. Pretty well from the first appearance of the “Mark of the Lesser Than Sign” (as that’s all I could see from my seats), I was enjoying myself. There was a wee bit of nudity (a booty flash from a lady), but other than some double entendres, I consider it fairly suitable family fare, and a fun night out to boot. Have a glass of sangria or two before the show, avoid the crap seats in the second half of the stalls, and I think it will be just about a perfect evening! (Thanks to the Westend Whingers for the recommendation – I would never have bothered otherwise.)

(This review was for a performance seen on Wednesday, October 15th. Note that later a friend of mind teased me about the Curse of LowRow, which is when I get what I deserve for being so cheap with my theater choices, but the occasional utterly crap seat is well worth the opportunity to see so many shows which I could otherwise not afford. And hey, I can – almost – always go back, and in this case I will.)

Review – Mariinsky (Kirov) Ballet, Forsythe Program – Sadler’s Wells

October 14, 2008

Last night was a wonderful opening to the Mariinsky’s visit to London. I was especially excited when I read about it (seemingly months ago!) and saw that they were doing an all-Forsythe program. I am a huge Forsythe fan. Forsythe makes ballet exciting and full of energy in a way I would have never though possible. His dances show off the physical prowess of the dancers and completely strips away the “preciousness” of ballet, re-casting it as an event in which athletes at their prime show us just what they can do with the bodies and skills they’ve spent years creating. Also, Forsythe’s work seems so challenging that it changes the mentality of the dancers performing it. When dancing Forsythe, mild mannered performers suddenly become tigers, excited about performing something that pushes their technique. In short, William Forsythe makes great dancers excellent, and I love to watch that happen on the stage – it makes me want to jump up and shout, a feeling I get from almost no other choreographer out there (Wayne Macgregor excluded).

The evening had four works, one of them (“Two Ballets in the Manner of the Late 20th Century”) presented as if it were one piece, but with works so thematically different I couldn’t really see it as a unit. The first ballet was “Steptext,” my favorite of the evening, a work for one woman (the brilliant Ekaterina Kondaurova, red haired and perfect for the role) and three men (Igor Kolb, Mikhail Lobukhin, and Alexander Sergeyev) done to the Bach Partita 2 in D minor. But the whole piece, including the music, messed with the audience’s expectations. First, the dance started without lowering the house lights – I think a dancer (Sergeyev?) just showed up on stage and started dancing without music (though perhaps the curtains were opened and he was just there). The audience kept talking, not noticing, while this main was moving his arms around in a hypnotic pattern – then there was a jolt of music – then silence again.

The audience kept quieting down, but the house lights stayed up for a long time, then went to half light, then went down, but came up to midway before it was over. And the music was just a brief screech of the Partita for probably the first five minutes, during which the first dancer just walked off stage and the other two men showed up. When the woman showed up – dressed in red in comparison to the men’s sleeveless black leotards (and dominating the stage because of this) – she did a series of movements with her arms that appeared to be defining a box. This seemed to set up a language that was repeated by the men later in the piece.

From this point forward the piece became more about the men dancing with the woman, although the men all had their own time in the spotlight and also danced with each other. The action was furious at times, with the woman lifted up, dropped into the splits, and then picked up again (a movement that made my husband’s and my jaws drop), rolled up a man’s body, and (I think) rotated, while leaning back and on her toes. She also ran backwards on the tops of her feet … it was crazy! Meanwhile, the men were like great gorgeous animals, their entrechat (is this the right word? – the crossing of the feet over each other) seemed to show that they were not just muscle but grace, also. I was entranced, and I loved the movement, and the fact I’d come to the show with only six hours of sleep just faded from my awareness. It was great.

The next piece, Approximate Sonata, was a series of pas de deux about which I took few notes. The tracksuit-like costumes the men wore were pretty heinous, and Ryu Yi Jeon was so thin it made my stomach feel a little off, but the movement was good. I saw a theme I’d seen in Forsythe’s pieces before – a female dancer refusing to partner with someone, being approached and then refusing to let herself be touched. I like that, actually – it makes the dancers feel much more human, and kind of focuses your mind on some of the expectations of what will happen on stage. The piece ended with Ksenia Dubrovina (I think – it was the heaviest of the dancers, a really busty woman with incredibly strong legs, basically the embodiment of the strength you get with maturity versus the flexibility and agility that comes with youth) working through what to do (in Russian!) with her partner, then finally her dancing on stage while he sat and watched while the curtain came down, so all that you saw at the last was her feet.

While I was watching this, my brain went on a bit of a tangent about the current state of choreography in ballet. First, in my mind, Forsythe seems the clear heir to Balanchine. He’s stuck with the story-free leotard ballet and continued to enhanced the skill levels of dancers. Second, why can’t most choreographers figure out how to make dance as exciting as this was? Christopher Wheeldon totally gets the “history” of ballet, but even though he wants to make it accessible to modern audiences, it seems like the second he gets the dancers on stage he goes all cerebral and forgets everything there is to know about modern culture. Wheeldon seems only to reference the ballet vocabulary, but Forsythe makes exciting movement that doesn’t need ten years of watching people dance in order to appreciate it. Or …. well, who knows, maybe I’ve been watching dance too long and I can’t tell anymore. But still, I find few people that seem to hit the sweet spot like Forsythe does. And he lets dancers be sexy. Yay for that.

The third piece, “The Vertiginous Thrill of Exactitude,” is the one that’s getting all of the publicity shots. It was actually quite fun – three women in chartreuse tutus (Elena Androsova, Olesya Nobikova, and Evgenya Shklyarov) being terribly gamine and fairly classical as they danced with two men to Schubert’s Sympony #9 in C Major. However, the men were generally doing better in this piece than the women were – though I loved the happiness the girls were projecting (for once not looking like the sharks who’d fought their way up since kindergarten and just like young women doing what they loved), they seemed to be a bit … loose. They weren’t quite matching up with each other, they just didn’t seem to have the preciseness the dance required. I wondered if maybe they hadn’t rehearsed it for a few days or if maybe they were stiff from the plane ride over – at any rate, it didn’t seem to be as on as it should have been. (On the bus later, an elderly gentleman who really seemed to know his stuff opined that the entire female company was just trying too hard to be pretty instead of trying to do what the works required – a thought I feel had real merit.) Still, this piece really showed how pointe work isn’t some airy-fairy delicate thing for the ladies – it’s an activity that requires strength, dedication, and (I suspect) a high degree of pain tolerance. And even though this wasn’t done as well as it should have been, I still enjoyed myself. I mean, really, I was just having a great evening, and the joy of the dancers was infectious. And who was that charming woman with the black hair? (These were all corps girls so I can’t tell from the program.) She seemed terribly young but I feel like she’s got a great career ahead of her and I’d like to keep tabs on her progress.

Finally, the evening was coming to an end (running rather late due to the many bows the dancers were taking, and can someone please tell Russian people not to talk out loud when the show is going on if they’re not actually in Russia?), and we ready for “In the Middle, Somewhat Elevated,” which I’ve seen done three times by Pacific Northwest Ballet. It’s a great piece – an incredibly match of movement and music only really equalled in its force by Macgregor’s “Chroma” – and I love to see it performed. However, there was, once again, a certain sharpness missing to the movements of the women. The lovely black haired girl of the previous act seemed too delicate to be as hard as she needed, while the other dancers were frequently not giving their moves the … how do I say it … “plosiveness” they needed. When the kicks to the top of the body happen, you should about feel like you’ve just taken a thumping by a mule, and while the women were able to handle the element of flexibility, the razor edge was not there. This was, however, not true at all of Ekaterina Kondaurova, who powered her way through the whole piece as if it was the Olympics all over again and she was going for a gold. She flexed, she bent, she was a power to reckon with on pointe, she was on it. And Ksenia Dubrovina (if it was indeed her) cranked out her oldster power skills, fairly well spanking the younger women of the company. (Meanwhile the men were all pretty good in general – I apologize for not having too much to say but my notes were thin.)

Overall, I think this was an excellent evening of dance, of the kind that rewards me for the many duds I have to put up with in my search for great ballet. Do check it out if you can, and, well, you might even want to see the Balanchine program, too – I know after last night I was thinking that twice in one week wasn’t nearly enough.

(This review is for a performance that took place Monday, October 13th, 2008. The Mariinsky will repeat this program on Tuesday, October 14th, then do a Balanchine program the 15th and the 16th.)

Review – La Clique – London Hippodrome

October 4, 2008

Last night, on a whim, I took my sister and husband to the opening night of La Clique at the London Hippodrome. To be honest, I was somewhat motivated by the fact that since it was opening night, I could get a “scoop” on my blog. Now, I’m not so low that I’ve gone to writing stories with search keywords like “Britney Spears Naked!” or “9-11 Conspiracy Revealed!” in this blog in order to improve my traffic (see this article by Charlie Brooker to get the joke), but I have to realize there’s a lot to be said about writing a review of a show early in the run rather than the day before it closes. So I pinched my nose, forked over 30 quid a pop for tickets (standing at 10 was a big “no”; I was hoping for the 20 quid “stool” seats, but they’d all gone by 6 PM the night of the show), and in we went, moths flying out of my pocket as we walked in the door. (NOTE: Friday 10:30 PM tickets can be had for £10 with promo code STA: book at LoveTheatre.com.)

Venue first, as I figure no one has really been in the Hippodrome unless they were clubbing in the late 80s: the entrance is right on the corner of the block of buildings on the east side of Charing Cross’s Leicester Square tube exit, and it’s most remarkable to see this big staircase heading off of the sidewalk in a place that’s only ever been a flat wall before. Up we went into a sort of reception area, with clots of people milling in front of a desk where we needed to exchange our tickets for wristbands indicating which area we’d paid to sit in (yes, it’s not reserved seating – we went in half an hour before showtime so we could get better seats than we would if we showed up closer to showtime). To the left was a bar area that had all sorts of food (such as pies), so a real dinner could easily be had here (though I preferred my Chinese food dinner at Red Hot, about three minutes up the street); to the right, a coat check area.

Inside the venue there was a circular depressed area seating about 250 people, backed by red curtains; in between the lowered seating area and the curtains was a smallish raised area containing what I think were the extra premium “seats with tables” (with flowers and candles on them) and a grand piano (off to the right); the nicest bar in the house appeared to be on this level, directly across from the curtains, and the seats kind of expanded out “behind” the little circular stage in the middle toward the bar.

Entrance to the venue was all stage left, and we continued on up to the seats and stools area. This was a balcony with four levels of seating, two of them tables (the ones lowest and closest to the stage were reserved, but apparently the second layer of tables would have been fine for people with my level of wristband if we’d been quick), the two further back rows of high backed chairs (which were all moved up to the glassed walls on the edge of our level of balcony to let us better see the action on stage – otherwise the balustrade was right at eye level). Behind all of these was another, less well equipped bar area (no port; wine 3.65 a glass), and a quite expansive ladies’ room. (What can I say, it’s a joy to not have to wait, and with about 15 stalls and a 1940s ambience, it was really much nicer than I expected.) We were too late to get a table, but took our places in the lower row of chairs and to the right of the stage.

If you are thinking of going, my advice is this: stools on the left to the house would be okay; all chairs and tables upstairs have a good view for all of the show; the premium tables downstairs have rather too many views of performer’s backsides; the seats really close to the stage are a DANGER ZONE and likely to result in you getting splashed or inadvertently involved in a performance; the lower seats close to the bar and facing the stage likely have a good view for everything. (I can’t say about the standing room tickets as I’m not sure where these people were shuffled off to.)

The evening opened with Cabaret Decadanse, who presented a puppet singing a disco song – pretty cute, well done, but not compelling for me as the puppetry wasn’t that amazing (I do see a lot of this stuff) and the music was recorded. If someone had been singing, that probably would have done it for me, but it wasn’t, so I sat there going, “Okay, I’m waiting to be sold on this show still!”

The next act was a “veddy English” balancing act, two guys in bowlers and suits, looking like they were fresh out of some Monty Python skit. I think the gag was that one was the butler to the other. Their skit, playing with umbrellas and canes and their hats, was a blast, and when (whoosh!) we suddenly got to see what they looked like under their suits, I was most impressed. Goodness! It’s just not what you expect of an English guy, to be ripped out like that, but then again most English guys don’t stand on each other’s head when they’re trying to share an umbrella, either. (It did make me miss my home town’s Circus Contraption, though – the strong man and the tiny, trusting girl-child just had a really powerful emotional impact on me that these guys couldn’t touch.)

My second favorite act of the night was “Mario, Queen of the Circus,” who juggled and did unicycle stuff while Queen songs were played. I admit, I’m a sucker for Queen, but there’s a lot to be said for acts that are in the small timeframe a rock song admits – you just can’t get bored of what’s happening. More importantly, though, he was a really good juggler – his stuff was timed to the music. I also enjoy the dichotomy of “art” and “rock and roll” – so often this stuff gets all pretentious and fruity and up its ass, but the Queen songs kept it fun and lively. Mario was on three times, and I really enjoyed seeing him every time.

Less exciting was “Captain Frodo,” whose a contortionist. His schtick of being inept kind of put me off of my balance, but he just didn’t put out a persona I felt was compelling. Admittedly, he was up against some very sexy competition (such as Ursula Martinez, the stripping magician – is it really legal to strip down to absolutely nothing in London?), but … I don’t know, maybe it was the sideburns or the mustache. At any rate, I didn’t go for his stuff, and it wasn’t just because watching him dislocate his elbows was hard on the stomach (though my sister had to flat out turn away from the stage).

The best act of the night was David O’Mer, the bathtub aerialist, who did this stuff with two silk rope-things hanging from over the stage where he rolled himself up the ropes just using his incredible muscles (first his arms, then his legs). He was the one who wound up splashing the front rows of the stage, who had a plastic splash curtain laid down in front of them. (This one very gay black guy dropped his and just revelled in getting splashed – I can see where that would have had its appeal!) O’Mer was just totally sexy and really had his act in top nick – there was no laziness or cue-missing, and he was mighty fine to watch. Phwoar! (And for the gents in the audience, if you didn’t have a good time with Ursula Martinez, there was also Yulia Pikhtina, the gorgeous, amazingly coordinated hula hooper, who was so classy I couldn’t believe she was Russian. Miss Behave was also back for another round, but I don’t think that her schtick is really the kind of thing that would get you that special feeling like O’Mer did for me.)

Most of the performers were on at least twice, which was good for some acts (Mario) but less so for others (Cabaret Decadanse’s “I Simply Cannot Do It Alone” from Chicago was awful, partially because you couldn’t see the performers leg and feet very well, but also because the puppet was dressed so cheaply that it just wasn’t compelling to watch in any way.) But in summary, it was a fun night but worth more like 20 quid rather than 30, and I would recommend it as really fun to do with a bunch of people after work.

(This review was for opening night, Friday, October 3, 2008. Apologies for the less than stellar writing, but I’m off to Italy in two hours and just can’t spare much time!)

Review – Merce Cunningham Dance Company – CRISES, XOVER and BIPED – Barbican Centre

October 2, 2008

Last night my husband and I went to see Merce Cunningham’s dance company perform at the Barbican. I’m a big fan of Merce: I consider him to be the premiere American modern dance choreographer, and I see him every chance I can since the first time I saw them, in Seattle, when they performed “Beach Birds” at Meany Hall. It blew me away with its effortlessness, and I was really impressed by his commitment to making dance a “gesamtkunstwerk” (hoping I’ve spelled that right), with artists contributing sets and costumes and new music being created just for the dance. Too often dance winds up cutting corners (i.e. any art that’s not movement related) to save money, but Merce doesn’t seem to be touched by this budgetary frame of mind. And in keeping with this, his new piece “Xover” (perhaps pronounced “Cross-over,” though I called it /zover/) had a drop by Robert Rauschenberg and a live performance of John Cage’s “Aria and Fontana Mix,” which I hadn’t heard before, but hey, more John Cage! On the other hand, the last time I saw a Cage/Cunningham production, the person I took with me fairly well actively resented me. Our conversation went like this (after about 75 minutes of weird piano stuff and abstract movement):
“So, were you expecting it was going to be like that?”
“Yes.”
“And yet you still bought tickets?”

This time, however, I had someone with me who is familiar with the vocabulary of modern dance and doesn’t shy away at non-standard musical compositions, so I expected to not get a bunch of anger thrown my way after we headed out the door. And we had the good luck of finally finding a good restaurant to eat near the Barbican, in this case the Pho Cafe, which had the tastiest Vietnamese food I’ve yet found in London.

However, what I didn’t expect was to have a gaggle of giggling, uncomfortable teenagers throwing their attitude during the show. The first piece (“Crises”), had easily hatable “fixed” piano music (a recording) and dancers in rather tacky full body leotards in primary colors (red and yellow, one salmon) doing very abstract movements that the kids seemed to find extremely funny. I was really irritated because I found myself unable to concentrate on the show – what I wanted to do is walk over and give a lecture about not talking through the music and perhaps using the “whisper” as we were NOT sitting in front of the television.

For me, I wasn’t really sucked into the dance – I saw it as more of a museum piece, a chance to watch something which helped illustrate how Merce’s dance evolved to where it is today. It was far more lively than similar pieces I saw performed by the Martha Graham dance troupe – I think there’s something about having the choreographer still alive that keeps the dance fresh. And I wondered (I really wanted to ask!) if the dance was actually performed differently now than it was almost 50 years ago, because I do think dance technique has changed and that dancers are more athletic now than they were in the 50s and 60s. But still, I wasn’t emotionally hit by this piece – it was just absorbed and put into my memory as a reference point for understanding this choreographer’s evolution.

The second piece was “Xover,” and, Terpsichore be praised, the pestilence to our left decided to spend the time in the bar. The rest of the audience compensated for their ill manners, however, because they were overwhelmed with laughter by the score. I have to admit, a squeaky balloon and a woman growling and clucking are rather inherently amusing, but the laughter was so loud I was really worried the dancers’ concentration would break. After Crises’ canned music and musty costumes, it was a pleasure to see the dancers in plain white leotards – they were well set off in front of the garish Rauschenberg drop. The drop fit the music, oddly enough – it was sort of a car crash of images, and the music was bunches of random noises (occasionally freaking me out – a couple of the sounds made me think the theater was collapsing). And maybe there is something funny about how serious dance takes itself, to have dancers doing these seemingly unconnected movements while these unconnected noises bounced around the auditorium, but I enjoyed watching what was happening and didn’t want to be distracted by giggles. Grrr.

Finally came “Biped,” the highlight of the evening for me. Oddly enough, as a piece with light projections (which I normally hate), I actually found it working. Maybe it was because they were done on a scrim in front of the stage – the lights defining and redefining the space where the dancers were performing, creating walls and then dissolving them – and I was entranced by how the stage seemed to be shrinking and growing in front of my eyes. At times I felt like the images were actually appearing in between the dancers, and while the scaled drawings of dancers – projected on the scrim so they looked like they were moving to the front of the stage and then back again – were clearly a product of 1990s technology, I still found it enchanting.

This, I felt, was Merce performing at speed, producing a work that fully integrated the resources available to him – wonderful music (live Gavin Bryars as done by Gavin Bryars, kiss me for my luck in living in London!), costumes that enhanced the atmosphere, and great lighting. I think it was maybe five or ten minutes too long, but it was the only piece of the night where I fully checked out from the cares of the world and lost myself in what was going on stage – until the freaking obnoxious highschoolers lost it again when the male dancers came in and put jackets on the women. Oh God, a costume change, how droll. Could someone make sure these kids don’t come back?

At any rate, a decent evening, and I would see Biped again in a heartbeat. In fact, I wish I could go back and see the second set of performances, but given that my sister is in town (as of today), I think I’d be pushing familial relations rather much if I tried to dip her into the waters of modern dance by doing Merce first.

(This review is for a performance seen on October 2nd, 2008. Alternate view posted by The Teenaged Theater Critic here.)

Peepolykus return with “Spyski” – great £5 deal!

October 2, 2008

This morning’s Metro was touting a £10 offer for tickets to see Spyski, by Peepolykus, whose Hound of the Baskervilles left me in stitches two Mays ago (apparently I didn’t bother to review it at all – wait, I did, just not here and not much). The show’s at the Lyric Hammersmith and I’m all hot to see it, only now I see Last Minute has tickets for £5, which is even better! Now all I need to do is get a pair for tomorrow, somehow, though it looks to be sold out!

Coming up later today: review of Merce Cunningham at the Barbican. Summary: modern dance master, and the evening is worth seeing just for “Biped,” which is genius and features a live Gavin Bryars score.