Archive for November, 2008

Review – Cinderella – Lyric Hammersmith

November 30, 2008

Warning: The Lyric Hammersmith’s Cinderella is NOT a panto, despite the title and the timing. Along those lines, it’s not entirely a family friendly show, certainly not for those under 8 and not at all if you don’t like your kids hearing words like “bitch” (the children around me gasped) and seeing people murdered on stage. This caused a great deal of embarrassment to me, as the five year old I brought with me ended the show crying inconsolably due to the particularly gory ending. But if you’re aware of all that …

Cinderella is actually the most imaginative retelling of this story I’ve ever seen and far exceeded my expectations for what this story could possibly be (although I was hoping for broad comedy, drag queens, bad puns, and a singalong with a lot more positive energy after spending eight hours looking at flats in South London). The format was of several fairy stories being told by Cinderella (Elizabeth Chan) and the various actors playing different characters (except for Cinderella herself). The staging was the usual “telling not showing stuff” (which can be unusual though it works better with small budget shows); the characters held little paper birds to represent the “snow pigeons,” a frame was held up in front of an actor to represent a picture, a variety of mannequins represented the numerous guests at the ball.

The acting generally felt highly stylized and wasn’t really about character development in any way; the actors were representing archetypes and conducted themselves appropriately. Fortunately, instead of the cartoony evil sisters, we had two girls (played by Katherine Manners, whose singing in Coram Boy struck me so, and Kelly Williams) who actually behaved like normal girls – afraid of their mom, wanting to make friends but not above pointing fingers to save themselves. While I was happy with them, I found Ms. Chan actually just a little too dreamy and high-archetype for the show – I wasn’t really able to be pulled in by her performance because she herself seemed so distant and two dimensional. Oddly, it seemed to be the Prince (Daniel Weyman) who did the most “acting” per se – though he was being a prince who had to act in order to deceive his mother, so perhaps this isn’t really a fair example.

The fun part of this production was, for me, seeing how the actors conveyed fairly dense theatrical visions with lightweight tools. This really came to fruition in the final scenes, which (if you haven’t read the Grimm original or don’t want a spoiler otherwise, best you stop reading now ….) required the sisters to cut off parts of their feet in order to fit into the shoes, and then later the entire “evil Stepfamily” had their eyes removed. A bit of red yarn and what looked like potatoes seemed to carry the deeds well enough (plus having them dropped into a bucket of water for effect), but my ability to enjoy this bit of theater (and it was really fun!) was terribly marred by the way it upset the little girl I’d invited to join us. She’d actually really enjoyed the entire show – I suspect all of the different stories were really catching her imagination – but this was just too much and I felt bad for having so crucially misjudged what was going to happen onstage that night. I enjoyed so much of it, including the non-standard musical accompaniment (Terje Isungset played bicycle wheels and icicles – pretty neat!), but I probably won’t be able to pull myself out of the funk caused by terrorizing a little girl for a while. On the other hand, the mistake did lead my husband to utter the immortal lines, “Look behind you! Oh, you can’t,” so it’s possible the rest of the group I was with had a good time in spite of this.

(This show is for the evening performance on Saturday, November 29th, 2009.)

Advertisements

Review – August: Osage County – Steppenwolf at the National Theatre

November 29, 2008

Tonight I got to see a show I have been waiting to see for a year, since I first read about it in the New York Times: August: Osage County, the Pulitzer prize winning play by Tracy Letts that is receiving its European premiere this week at London’s National Theatre. The phrase “It is, flat-out, no asterisks and without qualifications, the most exciting new American play Broadway has seen in years” had me drooling and going mad that it was so far away. In fact, my secret plan was to see it this winter in New York, but No! The original cast was leaving Broadway! I was doomed to only see a shallow recreation of the original …

until I read that the Steppenwolf cast was coming to remount it in London. Hurray!

Of course, this only meant that I was doomed to be disappointed as this incredibly over-hyped show proved to me, once again, that you can never meet hopes that are raised to such a fever pitch.

This, in fact, is not the case. Is August: Osage County the best show I’ve seen on a London stage this year? I’m afraid so. Is it the best play written in America in, say, the last five years? Well, I am pretty damned sure it is. In fact, it’s about the only new play I’ve ever seen that made me feel like I’d actually seen a show that was going to make it into the canon. A family drama with the psychological knife of Ibsen, the turmoil of O’Neil’s Long Day’s Journey Into Night, the desperation of Death of a Salesman … God yes, this play was brilliant. It hit the key question that a great play must be able to say yes to: did I just see a play where I felt like the characters had lives before the show, and after? Osage County somehow managed to put thirteen people on stage of which only four were filler. Every other one, I could probably think about it and tell you a little bit about their childhood, and what they did a month after the end of the play. It was that good.

I will try to stop the foaming at the mouth and review it just a bit. The story is that the … uh, don’t want to give away any plot points … matriarch of this Oklahoma family has her daughters and sister (and spouses, and one grandchild) gathered around her, and she is … falling apart. Deanna Dunagan (as Beverly Weston) plays a manipulative, pill-popping, vicious woman the likes of which I haven’t seen since All About Eve. She was a force of disruption everywhere she went, and while I can’t be sure that muscle relaxants will quite make someone act the way she did, I completely bought into her character.

Also brilliant were Rondi Reed (as Violet’s sister Mattie Fay Aiken) and Amy Morton (as Barbara Fordham, her eldest daughter). I can’t remember the last time I’ve seen so many good roles for women “of a certain age” on stage at the same time. They were angry, they were tender, they were hurt, they had secrets, they had goals in their lives they wanted to accomplish. I thought of the wimpy heroines of Chekov and thought, give me these foul mouthed, strong willed gals any old day.

My only complaint about the evening was the excessive laughter of the audience (which occasionally made it hard to hear what the actors were saying – perhaps a bit of a problem with the sound design, also?). There were several funny lines, but it seemed the audience really and truly thought they were at a comedy, rather than watching the sad disintegration of a group of people who might even love each other underneath the nastiness. Maybe they were really uncomfortable with the tension on stage – the post-funeral dinner was like fingernails on a chalkboard – or maybe there was some extra layer of English sensitivity that was being hit that I didn’t get. It is a serious play with some funny moments, but it is not in any way “uproarious.” It really is just the simple truth about how things are, and I think a lot of people don’t like to admit that way more people have families like this than you want to believe.

At any rate, GOD, a four star night. It’s here for eight weeks; open up your wallet and buy your tickets now.

(This review is for a performance that took place on Friday, November 28th. Be advised the running time is three and a half hours – starts at 7:15, done at 10:45 – though I just felt like time flew by while I was in the theater.)

Review – Three Short Works (Voluntaries, The Lesson, Infra) – The Royal Ballet

November 27, 2008

Last night was my long awaited trip to the Royal Opera House to see Wayne McGregor’s new work, “Infra.” However, it was not the only work on the program; it was the final work on the program, which was rather a compliment, as my experience has been that mixed rep ballet sandwiches are usually stacked “nice/boring ballet” “the thing that makes you feel weird” “the big winner with the crowd scene that sends you home feeling energized.” “Chroma” got the “weird” placement, with the missible “Danse a Grande Vitesse” the supposed “feel good” finale, but it seems that the Royal Ballet were feeling more confident this time that McGregor could be the anchor for a show. It was a shame in some ways, but as there was nothing in the evening I really didn’t like, I mostly just minded that I wound up getting home after 11 PM on a weeknight.

“Voluntaries” (choreographed by Glen Tetley) was something I’d seen before, but I was still happy to see it what with Marianela Nunez leading the cast. The costumes are a horrible 80s look with big open chests for the men and the women in white, but it’s cool to hear the awesome Poulenc organ music blasting across the house while the women are being thrown around. To me the piece has a really primeval feel to it, with the big, sparkly, universe/sun cirhttps://webcowgirl.wordpress.com/wp-admin/post-new.php
Webcowgirl’s Theatre Reviews › Create New Post — WordPresscle on the back of the stage and the woman looking like they are being offered up as sacrifices; but though a lot of contorting goes on, I think it’s my conclusion that this work just doesn’t thrill me. Nunez was full of energy, lithe as can be, and amazingly muscular, but … I guess I wanted her to have an opportunity to do more and be carried around less.

“The Lesson” (choreography by Flemming Flindt) was a ballet I’ve actually been very interested in seeing since I first heard about it. What a story – wicked ballet master manipulates and kills student! My uncle said it seemed like an upscale Sweeney Todd, though it wasn’t quite – it was more of an Expressionistic piece, a comic Grand Guignol ballet, with a movie-like set of greens and blues and greys and yellows. Johan Kobborg did a great job of being a psychotic teacher – it’s actually one of the best “acting” roles I’ve seen for a man in a ballet in a dog’s age. Roberta Marquez was an adorable pupil, light on her feet, expressive, and impressive in her ability to dance while someone was holding on to her ankles (is this actually something they do in dance school?). Kristen McNally was fun to watch as The Pianist, a sort of assistant to the teacher, like Mrs. Lovett in Sweeney, but with huge, exaggerated actions. I was afraid I’d be terrified and shocked by the ending, but it was all over really fast and just came off as a bit of black humor, to my relief.

Well, then, on to the main event (after another thirty minute interval – what in the world are they thinking!), we finally got on to Infra, the star of my evening. Sadly, I can’t go on about it at length right now, as it’s late and I’m too exhausted to talk much. To me, the ballet seemed to be a lot about how people live and interact with each other, the kind of connections we make, the way you can be surrounded by so many people and actually be completely lonely. The movement didn’t have the shock to me of “Chroma,” which is probably in part because I’ve become more familiar with the vocabulary of movement MacGregor uses, but it also didn’t feel as sharp edged – but it was a more introspective piece overall.

The soundscape, by Chris Eckers, was very … well – it’s really hard to describe. There were violins playing at times, and at other times there were scratchy noises, and al the time this was going on, overhead there was a LED art thing by Julian Opie of people walking, walking, walking by, which I stopped paying attention to, though it kept going. And I got lost in the noise, and the movement, and the truly amazing lighting (Lucy Carter), and the dancers caressed and fought with one another, and they touched and brushed and manhandled each other, and Melissa Hamilton was tiny and so flexible and strong that at one point as Eric Underwood was folding her inside out, the people behind me gasped in amazement. And then all of these people came walking, walking, walking out of the wings, walking in an endless stream, mirroring the images that had been showing above them forever, while one woman fell apart in the middle of the stage, broken and ignored by the crowd … and then she disappeared into them, and “the great river ran on.” It was an awesome moment.

And, well, I guess I wish I could watch it again. I really liked it a lot.

  • (This review is for a performance that took place on Wednesday, November 26th. This was the last performance of this set of dances.)

  • Great deal on tickets (£10) to see Boris Godunov and Riders to the Sea at English National Opera

    November 26, 2008

    The evening standard has got a deal for tickets to Boris Godunov and/or Riders to the Sea at English National Opera – only £10 a piece. No idea where the seats are but it is quite a deal. Now, you’ll see me watching bad reality television before I’ll see Boris Godunov again, but I will be off to see Riders to the Sea this Sunday – it’s just about one hour running time, which means I’ll be home in time for supper! More info on their site, but if you want to just jump on it, the deal is:

    To book online click here and enter code OPERATEN when prompted or call 0871 911 0200 (24 hrs) and quote OPERATEN.

    Enjoy!

    Great deal on Wayne Macgregor’s Infra at the Royal Opera House

    November 24, 2008

    The unheard of has happened: LastMinute.com has a deal on tickets to the Royal ballet (£30 tickets for £17 LATER: THESE HAVE SOLD OUT, NOW IT’S £38 FOR ORCHESTRA SEATS). In this case, it is the short works featuring new Wayne Macgregor ballet (Infra). Since I was sick last week, that means I’ll get to go after all!

    Great deal on Matthew Bourne’s “Edward Scissorhands” at Sadler’s Wells (various dates)

    November 21, 2008

    I very much like Matthew Bourne and was quite excited to get to see this show some three or so years ago at Sadler’s Wells (December 2005, to be precise). Now, after seeing four or five more of his shows, I consider this to be the weakest of the lot – a nice story but not particularly interesting dancing. His Nutcracker and Swan Lake retell stories and make them better; this does not.

    That said, it’s still fun and a good night out and I’m sure plenty of people would enjoy seeing it. With this in mind, I’m pleased to say that the Metro has a deal for half priced tickets for this show at Sadler’s Wells – 50% off two top riced tickets (£50 or £40) – it advised in the paper that you call the ticket office at 0844 412 4300 and quote the “metro offer,” or do it online and use the promo code pcdmetro when prompted. It’s only good for shows on Sunday, but there’s a 2:30 ashow and a 7:30 show, so lots of opportunities to see it there, and it runs from December 2nd to January 18th (2009).

    NOTE: They’ve since published a second offer, good on these dates:
    Dec 7, 12, 14, 16, 18, 19, 21, 23, 26, 28, 30, 31, Jan 1 and 2
    50% off two top ticket prices (normally £50 and £40) – call 0844 412 4300 and quote “metro offer” or buy off of their website with promo code pcdmetro.

    FYI if you’re looking to see it at the New Wimbledon Theater, LastMinute.com has them for £27 on up, and they also have them for sale for the Sadler’s Wells dates as well.

    Anyway, enjoy!

    Review – 2008 Firsts at the Linbury, second program (Compania LA, Chisato Minaminura Dance Company, Albert Quesada and Vera Tussing, Helen Stromberger)

    November 19, 2008

    Last night I went with my friend Ruth to see the Firsts program at the Linbury Studio of the Royal Opera House. This is the third year of this tradition for me and I really look forward to having an opportunity to get exposure to performers/choreographers etc. that I’d never heard of before (i.e. Hofesh Schecter). It’s a stunningly affordable event at 5 quid a pop, which helps cheer me up when there is (inevitably) mixed quality among the pieces. (I figure just one dud within four short pieces is quite tolerable – what I’m hoping for is just one thing that is really brilliant.) There’s also a problem in that there are several bills during the course of each year’s firsts, and how do you choose which to go to? Unsurprising the series is tremendously popular and as it’s turned out it can be difficult getting tickets to even one!

    The first performance was Compañia LA doing Hambre. I was expecting some sort of circus act (as per the program note), but what I was got was much more so than that; physical performance (in this case juggling) used in a way that illustrated character and told a story. It was two men, one young and bookish, the other bald and hunched over, interacting with each other over a dinner table. The first man gave a clue about what was to come as he balanced a strange, giant-turtle-egg looking ball on a book he was reading, then fought with the other man to keep him from stealing his ball. This led to dinner and some silliness with plates, and, of course, a basket with eggs in it had to show up. There was a bit of a build up to the use of the eggs as items to juggle with, but finally they got going (once they’d established they actually had white balls instead of eggs), and the balls were flying everywhere. There was a regular theme of the guys stealing the eggs from each other, but really it was about them keeping them in motion, finally ending with a PONG like bit where they were bouncing balls off of chairs on top of the table and at each other. And it all ended … well, with a laugh. It was a great start to the night.

    After a brief pause, the Chisato Minaminura Dance Company got rolling with “The Canon for Duet,” a piece which apparently made it through the trials of The Place Prize 2008 (something else which I should actually start seeing). The two dancers (Jemima Hoadley, Hannah Shepherd) performed in silence for about 4/5s of its length, with the music being represented as a projection at the back of the stage – basically what a stereo would show of the music at different tones from bass to treble. There was a fair bit of hand flapping and some movement forward and backwards in the center of the stage, which changed the height of the shadows they were casting. However, they mostly seemed to ignore each other, never really making eye contact, and I found the performance not very engaging. When the music – which was specially composed for this Minaminura – was finally played, it did add a tremendous layer of context to what they were doing, but overall I found this only engaged me as a mental exercise, not as interesting choreography.

    After the intermission, we moved onto Albert Quesada and Vera Tussing’s “Beautiful Dance.” For this piece, the two dancers instructed us that, “During the performance will weill ask you to close and open your eyes. Please close your eyes.” We then listened to them walking and dancing on stage for a bit (I think – I didn’t take notes because my eyes were shut!). It sounded to me like they were trying to express the music of a song entirely through the beats of their feet (this would, I believe, be Beethoven’s Sonata number 13). When we opened our eyes, they stood side by side on stage, the one marching his feet while the other did what seemed to be arpeggios with hers, still in a bit of a march step. While this music they were making with their bodies continued (and a strange sight to watch it was, too), they started playing with the shadows they were creating on the back of the stage. I actually really enjoyed this, as they made it look like four people were performing, managed to get the shadows to cross over each other while the performers did not, and even made the shadows walk off of the stage so there was not one remaining. It was a really fun lighting trick and the whole performance was actually quite enjoyable, even though they only added the music in for a tiny bit. It really contrasted with the Minamura piece and I think was far more compelling.

    The final bit of the night was Helen Stromberger’s “Illuminating Georgia,” which was my absolute favorite. It was less about dance than about creating a look which used human bodies to achieve it – while also commenting on the nature of people (in my mind). The dancers were very tightly controlled in a way that reminded me of “Attempts on Her Life.” Yet somehow, while I felt like the actors’ spirits were being sucked out of them by the highly structured, improv killing set up used for AHL, the work of beauty that was created in “Illuminating Georgia” left me in no way feeling like I’d been short changed (though it’s likely that the dancers weren’t being stretched as much as they could have been).

    The piece opened with four women in white dresses standing in the dark, then having projections very precisely aimed on their faces, making for a kind of “Haunted Mansion” effect. They then had fire images (sort of) projected on them, which seemed to very deliberately also hit the curtain at the back of the stage, so that their bodies were faintly outlined, in a way that made me think of the old Kyrilian Aura they showed on “In Search Of.” And then the woman’s bodies, to me they looked like they were representing the swirls of energy inside the human body – the energy of thought, of mind, of emotion, of all the things that make us humans, and the outlines behind were what was visible of our tremendous inner experience. I was completely entranced – in fact, I was so caught up in what was going on on the stage that I forgot to take notes other than, “It’s a giant Nazbatag!” Oops. That said, what a great way to end the night!

    Overall, this was a highly successful Firsts evening, leaving me regretting that 1) I hadn’t brought J (the lighting geek) and W (the juggling geek) with me and that 2) I couldn’t see any of the other performances. My other quibble? Too many open seats downstairs, for which I’m assuming people just didn’t bother to show up. I would say charge more – say 10 quid – and maybe people will value the experience a little bit more.

    (This review is for a performance that took place on Tuesday, November 18th and repeats on November 19th – but it’s sold out.)
    Description from the ROH website, which I will expect they will take down soon as they don’t really bother to archive their performances:
    18 | 19 NOVEMBER 7.45PM

    UK PREMIERE
    HAMBRE
    COMPAÑIA LA
    Compañia LA are a young and exciting contemporary circus/physical theatre company. Their show Hambre, which has toured widely in Europe, explores the change in relationship between two characters when their lives, confined to their home, become distorted through hunger and fear. The fusion of object manipulation and physical theatre in this comic yet reflective show, with a surreal twist, will delight.

    THE CANON FOR DUET
    CHISATO MINAMIMURA DANCE COMPANY
    Born in Japan and deaf from birth, Chisato Minamimura is a remarkable dancer and choreographer whose aim is to visualize a deaf person’s response to sound through choreography. In the Canon for Duet, which reached the Place Prize 2008 semi-finals, she works with film, sound and silence to create this intriguing and thought-provoking work.

    BEAUTIFUL DANCE
    VERA TUSSING & ALBERT QUESADA

    ‘ This engaging duo mirrored the spirit of the music in their percussive limbs, producing an understated delight.” Metro

    Described as a ‘sonata for the body’ , Beautiful Dance explores movement as an acoustic, as well as a simply visual device; to achieve that peculiar sensitivity that occurs when each of the senses is isolated, and only then brought into play with each other. Beautiful Dance is part of an interdisciplinary and quirky project combining music, the science of semiotics, and dance to create a new movement-language.

    ILLUMINATE GEORGIA
    HELGA STROMBERGER/VILAS CON KRILAS
    Questioning the essence of physical existence, Illuminate Georgia uses the performers’ bodies as a projection surface to create a world of illusion where the appearance of the bodies is constantly transformed, abstracted and fragmented. As the dancers move through a series of physical states they enter a realm of an abstract existence where they merge with vibrating shapes and flickering lights.

    Warning! Performance contains flashing lights.

    Great deal on Wayne Macgregor’s “Infra” tonight; and preview review (November)

    November 13, 2008

    Well! That Facebook membership has paid off at last, as the Royal Opera group has posted half priced seats for Wayne Macgregor’s new work, “Infra.” These are even realistically priced tickets as it’s £30 and £22 balcony seats for £15 – reducing a £117 seat to £55 (like for Electra) doesn’t really help me much! Unfortunately I can’t really take advantage of it as I’m going next week – tonight I’ll be settling down in a riad in Morocco and ballet’s not really an option.

    Meanwhile I noticed that I’m doing a poor job of attending fresh content to my blog, in part because I’ve been travelling an awful lot – but also because I’ve got my uncle coming to visit at the end of this month and I’m stocking up for when he gets here. The schedule for the rest of the month looks like this:
    Nov 18: First, Linbury Studio, ROH
    Nov 19: The “Wayne Macgregor New Thing” at the ROH (and some other works but … I know why I’m going)
    Nov 20: Sankai Juku butoh program at Sadler’s Wells
    Nov 28: August, Osage County at the National (so excited!)
    Nov 29: Cinderella, Lyric Hammersmith
    Dec 2: A Little Night Music, the Menier Chocolate Factory
    December 5: Mother Goose, Hackney Empire
    Dec 6: Between the Devil and the Deep Blue Sea – Battersea Arts Centre
    Dec 12: Christmas Carol (the musical), some pub in Islington

    And that will be it until we go to New York over the holidays. I’m realizing a lot of good theater time in my schedule is also being blocked out by apartment hunting. Well, that will be an incentive to find a place soon – the sooner I have one, the sooner I can start going out again!

    Review – Partenope – English National Opera

    November 8, 2008

    Last night, Worthy Opponent and I went with our friend Cate to the London Coliseum, where the English National Opera was presenting Handel’s Partenope. This actually marked the second time we went to see Baroque opera in a week (the earlier time being Les Arts Florissants on Tuesday at the Barbican with an all-Rameau evening, nicely written up by Wechsler).

    Opera’s a bit tricky for me – I like listening to people sing, but I don’t care for the sappy emotions of “classical” opera – both La Boheme and La Traviata leave me cold, though I really like Carmen and have a soft spot for Madama Butterfly. And I’m a big fan of Baroque music. I try to see Baroque opera as being mostly about musical/vocal fireworks and not so much about story telling – which is good because frequently the stories are just incredibly silly. While I may enjoy myself, I still can find myself worn out – as happened both nights this week after hour two went by. Those music lovers of old, how did they do it?

    At any rate, despite having a plot so thin it would have served as a good dress for Salome, Partenope was a not bad night out, provided you enjoy this kind of music. I was excited to see two harpsichords in the pit as well as an archlute – the true sign of authenticity in the face of utter uselessness! Picking Christopher Curnyn, an “early opera specialist” (per the program) was, I think, a really good idea – instead of getting some mish-mash of musical styles, the whole thing sounded just right where it was supposed to be (and I’m a bit picky about this after ten years of early music concerts with the Early Music Guild back in Seattle).

    I felt this performance had a particularly interesting set and staging. The set and costuming were inspired a lot by the photos of Man Ray (and other artists of the 20s), which I knew quite well from Bill Jay’s photo history classes at Arizona State, and included the showing of Ray’s 1923 film “Return to Reason.”

    But … unfortunately, it all seemed to be sort of pasted on top of the opera itself as something to distract the audience rather than actually adding to the performance. There was a man wearing a flat piece of paper around his face wandering on the stage in a near total copy of Ray’s portrait of Andre Breton – but so what? He didn’t speak, he simply moved across the set, attracting attention to himself rather than the people who were actually performing. Partenope puts on a pile of bracelets up to her elbows, making herself look exactly like another portrait, of Nancy Cunard …. but again, how did it actually add to the show? (Admittedly as a costume device it was quite nice, but it was just not a moment of the level of importance as it was played to be.) These little fripperies were more distraction than addition, and in my mind show a real failure in the overall staging of the show. Did the director (Christopher Alden) have such a complete lack of faith in the text? I mean, certainly, the bits where the performers were standing around stiffly singing didn’t really have a lot to recommend them, either, but … well, at least act two was better than act one, even though I thought having the singers drape themselves across the stairs (and then sing, on their backs, while so draped) was quite novel.

    There were certainly some fun moments with the performance, such as when the various guests at act two’s party were walking around on a balcony, appearing and then disappearing behind a row of screens, and when one or two arias were sung from inside a toilet (truly something I’d never seen done before – I’ve never even seen a commode on a stage during an opera before!). There were also so many women performing men’s roles that it all seemed like something from a louche 20’s Parisian bar, and when one of them took of their shirt to reveal herself MALE – countertenor Iestin Davies – I found myself completely surprised! That said, what this show was really about was lovely singing, and Rosemary Joshua was a great Partenope – her trills and vocal athletics seemed entirely casual and effortless, as if she could just go on all night and it wouldn’t have bothered her a bit. In fact, all of the cast was good, which probably shouldn’t come as any surprise given that they were chosen to perform on a huge stage in probably one of the only cities in the world where you can gather some two thousand people together to watch an obscure opera from the early 1700s – repeatedly!

    However, I did find my patience wearing thin during the second act, and we decided to head home after its conclusion. Friday nights are almost always my weakest ones, and I just didn’t have it in me to watch all of the show. I had bought cheesy ten quid tickets up in the way upper side seats (H 46 if you care), and, while they were occasionally blocked, they were both more than good enough for the price AND they set me free to leave confident I’d got my money’s worth. Thanks to all of the performers for a lovely evening, and I look forward to more Handel soon – most likely The Messiah.

    (This review is for a performance that took place Friday, November 7th, 2008. There will be a final performance of Partenope on November 12th. Be warned it’s three hours and forty-five minutes long. And do forgive my clumsiness in this review – I talk about opera so little it’s hard for me to find the right words to describe it.)

    Review – Royal Ballet of Flanders – William Forsythe’s “Impressing the Czar” – Sadler’s Wells

    November 7, 2008

    Last night J and I headed up to Sadler’s Wells to see the Royal Ballet of Flanders perform William Forsythe’s Impressing the Czar. The previews I’d seen beforehand were utterly bizarre, with a stage full of English schoolgirls gone Lord of the Flies and lots of funky costumes – very different from the rather pure dance I associated with “In the Middle, Somewhat Elevated,” the middle section of this ballet, which I’ve frequently seen performed as a standalone piece. Apparently the whole thing is some kind of late eighties relic that had gone off of the performance map until RBF revived it for the Edinburgh Fringe Fest last year, where – per the program notes – it received a most enthusiastic welcome.

    Well. Let me do my best to describe the show (after briefly mentioning that it started half an hour late). There are four scenes and two intermissions, the final section having two scenes. The first scene has the stage split in two, with the left side mostly consisting of dancers in a lot of eighties metallic ballgowns seemingly doing condensed bits from older ballets (the miming was especially making me laugh, as it’s almost always the worst part of any ballet) mixed in with random Western culture references (i.e. I think the woman wearing a bird cage on her head was supposed to be Papageno; no idea who the guy was carrying the golden bird). On the right there’s not much action, but there is a woman in a school girl’s uniform watching TV. After a while you hear her voice as if she’s talking to someone on a walkie talkie; she’s some sort of interloper sneaking into the ballet, apparently in search of Mr. Peanut (“PNut” per the program). She winds up making a quite funny speech with modern political references in it (“Yes, we can!” and something about Palin being sent back to Alaska on her bridge to nowhere – priceless!), and eventually sort of dancing with the other people – at one point doing something very odd with golden arrows. The ballet is described as “narrativeless,” and that’s pretty appropriate for this part – it seemed to be all spectacle and no story, even though it had words. It was quite bizarre but there was lots of interesting movement and I was kind of caught up in just watching what was going on in front of me. Boring it was not!

    The center bit was “In the Middle, Somewhat Elevated,” which is fairly well a classic of modern dance and which I won’t spend too much time discussing here. RBF seemed fairly on top of the choreography, better than the limpid Mariinsky ballet, but not nearly as energetic or sharp as Pacific Northwest Ballet. The only time it was brilliant was in the final duet, in which a Japanese woman (as I recall from the program) was lifted, dropped, spun, flipped, and otherwise manipulated by her handsome partner. Their moves were so sharp they could have cut glass; they electrified the stage. My eyeballs dried out because I was trying not to blink so I didn’t lose a single motion. We cheered enthusiastically at the end, and they had several curtain calls – what a performance!

    The final section had two acts, an auction and a, er circle dance. The auction, which made no sense to me, had the woman of the first act asking the audience for bids on the golden-clad, bizarrely costumed dancers, all while having brief chats with “Mr PNut,” who was a head in a box on the tv set in front of her. (Got it?) The final act had Mr. PNut laying on the stage while the entire company of dancers, all wearing schoolgirl uniforms and bobbed wigs, circled and whirled around him. It got just too, too silly – three of the dancers (male) split off into a girl group trio and sang, while three other dancers (also male) started busting some 80s era B-Girl moves. It was just freakish, a veritable circus sideshow, and also exhilirating and fun. Overall, I think this was a good evening, although the ballet itself seems dated.

    (This review was for a performance that took place on Thursday November 6th, 2008. There are further performances on November 7th and 8th.)