Archive for May, 2009

Review – New Works in the Linbury (spring 2009) – Linbury Studio

May 14, 2009

Tonight J and I went to the first evening of this spring’s “New Work in the Linbury.” I’ve been before and found this a great way to see fresh work performed by excellent dancers. It’s an intimate environment and a good opportunity to see who might be (and who might deserve to be) getting their choreography done on a larger scale. It’s also a real chance to see the dancers shine, including some whom might not have had much in the way of star turns in the big house. Tonight’s show had seven pieces on the program, and while I realized there was little chance of them all being excellent, I expected at least one or two would be – and I was not disappointed.

As most of these pieces won’t likely be performed again, I’m going to do a little bit of the “historical record” thing and try to say something about every piece. The first, “Dear Norman,” was a tribute by Christopher Hampson to the late choreographer Norman Morrice. It was a lovely piece showing two men dancing, apparently in front of a studio mirror. One of them, Johan Kobborg, acted the role of a choreographer, aiding and assisting “the dancer” (Sergei Pollunin, graceful and gorgeous) as he attempted to learn a part, both of them watching themselves and the other at all times in the mirror along the fourth wall. Kobborg nudged him this way, mimed the moves he wanted the dancer to perform in full, and danced along with him (less extravagantly) as they caught the full flavor of the dance. What I enjoyed about this piece was how well it showed men performing, not as competitors or lovers, but as equals and as friends. They were incredibly supportive of each other. Kobborg seemed impish, while Polunin was firey as he spun in the air at an angle that seemed impossible without computer assistance.

Next up was “Recordato,” a strangely violent set of dances done to music of Michael England. The center couple was, I believe Mara Galeazzi and … er, not sure about the guy (and no pictures in the program to help). He seemed to be lifting her up like she was a little doll and setting her where he would. She would prettily point her feet and land nicely, but it seemed very much like she’d like to escape him, but then he’d grab her and put here where he wanted her to be. The pas de six at the end was quite nice but J’s comment that he felt the whole thing had heavy overtones of domestic abuse, what with (as he saw it) mimed hitting and kicking, kind of overwrote my own memories of it, so now I see it as being about controlling relationships rather than anything else.

The first half’s highlight was next, the brilliant and highly remountable “Les Lutins,” featuring live and luscious virtuoso violin music of Wieniawski (“Caprice”) and Bazzini’s “La Ronde des Lutins” (The Goblins’ Dance). It started with the violinist and pianist in front of and to the side but level with the stage, launching into the Caprice while Steven McRae just set the stage on fire with the most incredible light and fast footwork and leaps, perfectly catching the zest of the music. He aimed himself toward and very much addressed the violinist, and the steps he danced were some of the most pure interpretations of music I’ve seen in ages – not about telling any story to the audience but rather about how the music felt, him responding as a dancer to just what the violinist was doing. I loved it.

And then it got better as Sergei Polunin returned to the stage! Suddenly it was competition – steps danced faster, leaps higher, an occasional mimed kick, a final “neenur” as Polinin did a flip in the air (all to the music). No longer were McRae’s eyes on the violinist (Charlie Siem) – he had someone else to deal with.

And then, sliding in back to the audience, a curvy pair of hips in another pair of high pants held up by suspenders – and clearly, it was a girl! Alina Cojocaru was so perfectly gamine, flirting first with one man than the other, as they fought over her and danced with her and then … lost her to the violinist, who was going completely over the top with a bunch of at-the-very-top-of-the-range notes played with some skittering bow work – of course he was the man with the most going for him! I just loved it all and I hope sometime I can see this again – watching dancers duel like that is a real treat, and the music was amazing, too.

The first act ended with “Yes, We Did,” which per the program was “inspirted by an event which saw the collective power of today’s American citizens change the course of history.” Bit intimidating, really! And it had every possibility of being really bad – a lot of time dance I see that’s inspired by politics tends to flounder. It stared with what I think was a John McCain type performing some kind of stiff dance, joined by a Sarah Palin-esque woman in a French twist and glasses, who seemed to be trying to steal the stage from him. Fanfare for the common man played while a bunch of people moved around … er, going to rallies? One of them was dressed in an American flag, which kind of gave me the creeps – I haven’t seen it used in a positive context in the last three years or so. Then one guy came forward while the other eight or so dancers turned their backs to the audience and changed clothes, and then suddenly they were all wearing Obama shirts and kind of dancing along to the words of his post-election speech. And, um, I’m embarrassed to say I found it all a bit moving, even though they ended with their hearts over their hands as if they were doing the pledge of allegiance. The Obama election was to me the end of an eight year nightmare, and while I realize he will doubtlessly let me down yet, still, to hear the beautiful voice of a person I can call my president without cringing is still a pleasure to me, and I am still so proud of my country for electing a non-white guy to the highest office in the country. I’d best not go on about it much more but it meant a lot to me to see that other people thought it was a great moment in history, too. Thanks for the props, Kristen McNally, this American really enjoyed the tip of your hat.

After the intermission, the next up was “Now.” The music was a string quartet playing Alexander Bălănescu, which was very good, but what I liked the most about it was watching Yuhui Choe utterly take charge of her solos. After watching a ballerina struggle to stay balanced while partnered the night before in Giselle, Choe’s rock-solid sense of balance – and grace – was a treat. It was also great to see Steven McRae back on stage – where did he find the energy! – so shortly after “Les Lutins” and still setting the place on fire.

“Non-linear Interactions” didn’t have a lot of promise based on the description in the program. A work about randomness and the way strangers sort of “pass in the night,” sometimes affecting each other and sometimes not? It sounded like it wasn’t likely to be too coherent, and it wasn’t. There were some really interesting moments in which the dancers utterly froze on stage. Twice this was Mara Galeazzi, standing in the middle of it all and taking a huge, audible gasp, stopping the action, the third time when a man was show “mid leap” (or fall), suspended from the side of the stage by an invisible hand. This led to a moment in which the dancer in question seemed to be surprised by how everything had come to a halt around them, and perhaps was reflecting on their essential aloneness in the world, but unfortunately the rest of the piece wasn’t really able to support that thought. The very end was a big group scene with a bunch of movement that, I swear to God, made it look like they were flickering – the dancers’ arms and legs turning and arcing so quickly that they were catching the light in a bizarre way that almost felt like an ultra-high strobe was on (I checked with my husband, who’s a lighting designer, and he said he could see this effect, too). For me, combined with the occasional moments when the dancers moved very slowly, it seemed like the finale was showing how at times it seems like you’re rushing through life, while at other times things nearly grind to a halt. But … well, overall I wasn’t particularly caught up in the movement at all.

These feelings were swept away with the final piece, Liam Scarlett’s “Consolations and Liebestraum.” I’d seen his choreography before at last year’s New Work and saw all the hallmarks of a promising career buding on the tree. Tonight, I saw it bloom. I have to give him props for the choice of music – Liszt makes for lovely dancing – and his choice of how to set up the performance, as a series of pas de deux. These allow for really emotionally powerful performances, and, by golly, at the end of the second couple’s set, when the man (Bennet Gartside?) reached out from where he stood hidden (from the audience) by his partner and very carefully and, to my eyes, lovingly wrapped his arm around her waist, I got sniffly. The choreography generally was showing off the women in a variety of lifts and such, not really allowing the men to show off their stuff per se (like “Les Lutins” did), but what it did show was the men working as fantastic partners, though in the third bit (I think – must recheck notes tonight) there was a bit of a fumble that made me about go, “Eek! Dancer down!” – fortunately caught and recovered and the dancers carried on without loss of nerve or verve. Whew!

The piece opened with a woman on stage, kneeling, possibly praying. It was followed by a duet with a woman with braided hair and a very conservative, long (Amish looking) dress on, with a high collar, long sleeves and a full skirt. The second couple was a woman in a sleeveless top and a shorter, stiffer skirt – my thought is that the first couple was representing young love, and the second couple more of a mature love. The final couple was a bit of an enigma to me. The first woman had returned and seemed to be angry at the man she was dancing at, pushing him away, looking at the ground. Maybe she was hurt? He showed nothing but care for her, and my final interpretation, as he walked away and she finally turned and looked back at him, was that she was being visited by the ghost of someone she loved, possibly her son or her husband, someone who had had to leave her but didn’t want to do so and still loved her to bits. It was really just a great ending to the evening.

Overall, this is a night of dance well worth the effort to see, and if you have the chance to go, my advice is snap a ticket up right away and get down to the opera house. With so much good work and great dancing on show, it’s probably going to stand out as one of the highlights of the dance year for me.

(This review is for a performance that took place on Thursday, May 14th. New Works in the Linbury continues through Saturday, May 16th. An alternative review is available on BalletBag’s blog, while Clement Crisp shows me how it’s done in the Financial Times, teaching me the phrase “en garcon” and making me think that I must learn to identify the thing called a “triple tour.” Sometimes it’s horrible trying to write critiques when I have never had anyone else to talk to about ballet and can only explain it in my horrible, fannish amateur way; on the other hand, I hope I make my enthusiasm and reasons for such enthusiasm clear enough that whoever reads my reviews can see than anyone can go to a ballet and appreciate it without having to have been trained to do so.)

Great review on Clement Crisp’s talk about the state of ballet

May 12, 2009

I had a Twitter person refer me to this wonderful report on Clement Crisp’s pre-show lecture at the National Ballet of Canada. Now, I didn’t agree with his take on Northern Ballet’s Hamlet, but it was certainly clear he’s got the decades of experience behind him. And this review makes clear that he’s also dedicated to one of my pet causes, supporting the future of ballet. It must not die, and to not die, it needs fresh blood in the forms of new choreography and new audience members. To die, it just needs to be allowed to become a museum piece.

That said, I’m helping (eep!) support the death of ballet by going to see Giselle tomorrow. It’s one of my favorite classical ballets, and I figure that it will be a nice addition to the version by the Mikhailovsky I saw last year and the version I saw performed by the Ballet Nacional de Cuba way back in ’99. (Good lord! A performance before I was blogging!) Sure, it’s a museum piece, but on the lines of the Mona Lisa when you’ve got an excellent company performing it. (Actually I’d say it’s more like Millais’ “Ophelia,” but that’s just me.)

In addition to a night with an old standard, I’m also going to see the New Works at the Linbury on Thursday, because I do, seriously, support the vitalization of this art form which I love so much. And to add to this, I’ll be popping over to Sadler’s Wells on Tuesday to see the Northern Ballet Theater’s mixed bill (Gillian Lynne’s “A Simple Man,” “Angels in the Architecture” and “As time goes by”). Supporting these performances will help ballet move forward as an art – but I’m going because I love ballet, and I love the chance to see new works, and the thought of seeing some amazing dancers performing makes me grin from ear to ear.

The rest of my month is going to mostly be classical music at the Lufthansa Festival of Baroque Music – three or four concerts (including Phantasm and Emma Kirkby) over its two weeks – and I’m really looking forward to it. I’m only going to see two plays – Exquisite Corpse at the Southwark Playhouse, and Aunt Dan and Lemon at the Royal Court. Overall, May won’t be much of a theater month, but I think it will be great!

Review – Tunnel 228 – Punchdrunk at Waterloo

May 11, 2009

The fates shone upon my Saturday night, when my heartfelt plea for a ticket to 228 at last got a useful response from a person named “Karl,” who saw my post and didn’t want his ticket wasted. I sent him a series of increasingly excited emails, which culminated in the delivery of a PDF good for three people’s entry to the project the next day at 3:40. WOO HOO! And while it was certainly a lovely spring day outside, I in no way hesitated as I jumped on the Northern line and headed toward Waterloo. Art ahoy!

Apparently a lot of other people didn’t bother going (based on the holes in the guest log), though I’m not sure if it was the weather or the location. Tunnel 228 is located on the west and south side of Waterloo, down a side street called “Station Approach Road” that wraps all the way around the front of the station (possibly misleading the unwary – I’ve created a Google map that should set you straight were you to attempt to find it).

Now, the sad thing about giving away tickets to an event for free is that often people will just not bother to turn up (and people rarely have the strength of character of Karl, who I think is my karmic payback for giving away my Royal Opera House balcony seats to some poor folks in the standing side slips two weeks back). The question is, then, how can you get a ticket to go if you want to? My advice to the brash is just to go to the location and present yourself and ask “to take the place of any workers that may have failed to report for your shift.” This is in keeping with the whole idea of Tunnel 228, that people who are attending are going to work, and it just might prove charming enough to get you in the door. Daytime slots would probably work best as people would be more likely to flake out then. You might also ask people who are on their way in if they have any extra room on their tickets. Anyway, nothing ventured, nothing gained.

The next question is, of course – how was it?

Keep in mind, this is an art exhibit, not a theatrical presentation – in no way is it Masque of the Red Death or Faust. It’s presented in a very atmospheric environment, very beautifully lit tunnels that still feel kind of scary (and are most certainly dark). Inside, there is a steampunk thing going on – partially natural (the brick arches overhead, the broken bits), partially forced (the giant wooden wheel with the person walking in it to power other machinery, the train track with a small platform on it, the automated operating room). There are also several pure art pieces, and a few performance pieces (only two, I think, unless there was one hiding in an alcove I missed). The biggest thing actually went through several rooms – it started in the third hall (there are about four halls in total in the piece and one upstairs area), where a person pushed the platform down the track, counterbalanced on the other end by a person suspended from the ceiling, all part of a Rube Goldberg contraption in which the iron ball that was dropped swung out in a giant arm that went down a series of chutes, leading to a tiny train that took off down a dark puddle (in hall four), which finally circled up to shoulder level and knocked over all the books on a shelf edging the room with the track in it, somehow setting off the person in the wooden wheel, leading to a whole bunch of electric lights going off in the hall behind the wheel (creating rather a lovely fairy land) and illuminating a tacky statue of Christ sitting in an electric chair. It was really quite the spectacle (well, it was neat) but it seemed fairly devoid of any emotional content or wider context so it didn’t really hit the notes it might have.

In other places in the exhibit, I saw:
a room full of paper trees, with paper moths on the walls
a statue of a woman falling over in despair, at a table where she was watched by a crow
a coffin with baby birds (real ones, but very dead) crawling out of the corners
several tiny dioramas (a gas station, a Bingo hall, a grocery store)
a woman performing a sleazy dance for a fat cat businessman (this was live), visible only through a peep hole
an iron tank about six feet tall with two peepholes, one of which showed a woman surfacing from the water (in 3D!) and then disappearing, the lower showing her breathing bubbles into a man trapped underwater
several machines with tornadoes of water or vapor inside them, lit beautifully

I really enjoyed it, though I spent only an hour there – the sense of discovery was high, though the humor associated in my mind with Rube Goldberg meant I couldn’t take the Metropolis overtones seriously at all – it was more City Life than The Diamond Age. Overall, though, it didn’t have the oomph I got out of Punchdrunk’s larger events – but as an art exhibit, it was great and a million times more fun than any normal gallery show!

(Tunnel 228 continues through May 23rd, 2009. But all entry tickets are spoken for, so good luck getting in if you don’t have a ticket, though it may be remounted in the fall.)

Reviews – Tiger Lillies, New Players Theatre, and Jordi Savall, Wigmore Hall (London)

May 10, 2009

This week I went to two concerts that couldn’t have been more different from each other: the Tiger Lillies, in London for a nearly month-long run at the New Players Theatre, and Jordi Savall, whom I had the good fortune to note (thanks to his online schedule) would be (and was) at Wigmore Hall on Friday, May 8th. Savall is probably the artist in the world whom I hold in highest esteem; the Tiger Lillies were a group I’d heard of from many people and decided to sample (in a state of general ignorance) given their good reputation and the attraction of ten quid tickets.

Jordi Savall’s program at Wigmore Hall was split in two sections: the first to me seemed to be virtuoso viol music (included music adapted for the viol); the second was music of the British Isles, including several pieces that required retuning the instrument. The opening piece, Karl Friedrich Abel’s “Prelude,” had the bow dancing over the strings from one chord shift to another in a way that left my mouth hanging open. It was just so rich and complex, and the one instrument just filled the hall with its sound. It was inexpressably gorgeous, and followed by Bach’s “Allemande in D minor” I was transported by the beauty of the music. I often think that when a performer constructs a program, one of the considerations he takes into play is which works will give him a chance to stretch himself or show off his technique. These two pieces were the utter fireworks of the evening, effectively forcing the audience to submit to the power of Savall’s playing and just exist, wordlessly, in awe and amazement while the music washed over us.

The next several pieces were primarily, to my ear, the work of Marais and St. Colombe (pere et fils), as the program was not followed (Savall announced that there would be some Fantasies by Marais played when I was expecting some Prelude in D minor by le Sieru de Machy), though “Les Pleurs” was played. In comparison to the music of Bach and Abel, I found the French viol music so much more thoughtful and nuanced. It’s just a very personal style of music, exactly the kind of thing I would expect someone to play for their own pleasure with no one else listening. The German composers seemed rather mechanical and mathematical by comparison; perfect in their own way, but more cerebral rather than emotional. I was absorbed in the experience of the incredible French music, and my friend was also struck dumb by the gorgeous, heart-wrenching music. It’s crazy to think that this music was almost forgotten in modern times; I find it some of the best ever written.

The second half was four pieces from Tobias Hume’s “Musicall Humours,” followed by what was described as “Lessons for the lyra-viol,” three pieces by Alfonso Ferrabosco (“Coranto”), Thomas Ford (“Why Not Here”), and John Playford (“La Cloche”), and then “4 Pieces in the Bag-Pipes Tuning” (c. 1660). My favorite of these was “La Cloche,” which had Savall playing as if he were two people split, one sawing away (albeit gracefully) on his bass viol, the other answering, beautifully, on another instrument, in this case the plucked viol. The title of the piece is “The Bell,” and it very much had that ringing sound to it, since the strings had been altered so that more of them were able to play open and thus bell out their sound to the hall (my apologies for not being able to write down the tuning). It was really a master composition for the viol, since it took such advantage of the fact that it, with its six (or seven) strings, is already such a resonant instrument, ready to echo itself to the hall.

The bag pipe pieces were set up so that one string became a drone song, wth the fourth and fifth strings switched. I found it amazing that Savall was able to keep up with the change in the notations for his instrument during this set, as the location of any given note seemed to have moved around quite a bit, and though I think he may have dropped one or two notes, overall I was amazed that he was able, during the course of about an hour, change the tuning of his viol about three times and not lose his place. He was right that the bag pipe songs were quite simple, clearly following old folk tunes (from the bagpipes of Lancashire – way back in the past!), but still, they were lush and lovely.

With our enthusiastic applause, Savall returned for not one but two encores, the first a Musette from Marais’s third book of music for viol – sophisticated and short and gorgeous. And he came back yet again, the final time for variations and improvs on “an ancient Breton tune,” which was so beautiful it brought tears to my eyes. My God, I’m a sap. It’s a pity I’m not a rich sap or I’d be off to Fontfroide – Savall will be performing there four times at the end of the month. Alas! Perhaps I will be so lucky as to see him one more time this year, perhaps in Edinburgh – he won’t be back in London. But it was lovely.

Thursday was such a switch in gears from this show it’s hard to describe! The Tiger Lillies are usually described as “dark cabaret,” and that seems fair enough. They reminded me a lot of Seattle’s Circus Contraption – probably something that would happen any time you got on stage wearing clown makeup and carrying an accordion – but they also had rather a lot of The Asylum Street Spankers, with their pared-down musical sense that owes so much to following the lyrics of the songs. The set they performed in the comfortable confines of the New Players’ Theatre was from “Shockheaded Peter,” apparently an adaptation of a German’s cautionary children’s tale done with puppets and this band at some point in the past. I found it all rather like a performance of the Ghastlycrumb Tinies: every song was a tale of some child who met a horrible fate. In the meantime, our three piece ensemble (falsetto clown vocals with accordion/piano, bass with theremin, and percussion, sometimes involving pans and/or stuffed bunnies and/or spitting on the audience) walked us through one wild tale after another, with great musicality that focused tightly on the lyrics. I was quite absorbed in the songs and found it all very fun – highly recommended for those with a dark sense of humor.

(The Tiger Lillies continue their run in London through May 23rd; Jordi Savall has come and gone, but you might be able to console yourself at the Lufthansa Festival of Baroque Music, possibly by watching Phantasm. I know I’ll be there.)

Review – The Great Game (part 1) – Tricycle theatre

May 8, 2009

Last night J and I went to the Tricycle to see the first third of “The Great Game,” the series of plays on Afghanistan newly commissioned for this event. The plays are set up so that you can see all of them at once, as an all-day event, or split them up into three different evenings, in chronological sets. I’m not really one to sit in a chair watching anything for eight hours, but the promise of new theater (which I like to support) broken into bite-sized chunks (several short plays in each set, meaning the chances of seeing really good stuff was higher and the amount of time you needed to survive a bad one was lower) was irresistable.

The night I went was the earliest set, from about 1860 through the 1920s, with brief modern interludes to provide background. We opened with the Taliban arresting a sign painter, doubtlessly for a variety of crimes (the hugely informative program suggested that listening to music, painting a woman, and not wearing a beard were all likely reasons for his arrest). We then slipped into the best play of the evening: “Bugles at the Gates of Jalalabad,” a play about the tragedy of the 16000 British soldiers “and camp followers” (including wives and servants) who died while attempting to escape Kabul for Jalalabad.

The text, about four soldiers waiting for “the other survivors” (there was only one) was enhanced by text from the diary of Lady Sale (performed by Jemma Regrave), who’d been left behind as a hostage. The performances of the four men (Daniel Betts, Tom McKay, Rick Warden, and Hugh Skinner) nicely captured the madness of war, especially the way they turned on the Afghani (Nabil Elouahabi) who came their way. Imperialism, cultural idiocy, the futility of invasive wars, religious animosity – so much came out in this short time of the problems that basically have not managed to go away. But, more importantly, it captured the eerie feeling of the unbelievable, savage deaths of so many to an extent that it almost felt like a ghost story. It was the highlight of the evening for me.

Of the remaining plays, I felt they suffered from overacting and belaboring their point. Siba Shakib’s “Duologue,” abut the heroine Malalai, who rallied her people to fight against the British, was practically a propaganda piece, and Jemima Rooper didn’t seem to have the least bit of humanity in her portrayal of this person. It is possible that this was really a problem of the script, but hard for me to tell. “Durand’s Line,” about the borders set by Sir Mortimer Durand for the nation of Afghanistan, almost had a comic-book portrayal of Abdur Rahman (Paul Battacharjee), the Amir of Afghanistan from 1880-1901 – he was like Ming the Merciless. The play succeeded in expressing the political and social reality of that time, so I think was somewhat successful, but the acting needed work (again – though actually Michael Cochrane seemed letter-perfect as the pushy civil servant who could easily ignore he was dealing with a man who boiled people alive, and I had no complaints about either Danny Rahim or Rick Warden’s performances) and I felt the character of Abdur was also extremely thin.

After intermission, we return to two eminently forgettable playlets: “Campaign” (by Amit Gupta) which appeared to primarily be concerned with feeding the audience the history of early 20th century Afghanistan via the character of the professor (Paul Bhattacharjee), and “Now is the Time,” which depicted the end of the rule of the man who attempted to modernize Afghanistan in the period the professor had just been describing. “Campaign” seemed like it might have been attempting to insert a little humor with its trope of “the civil servant trying to get some free information from an intellectual,” but I didn’t find it very funny and since I’d just read the story of Amanullah’s failure to bring Attaturk-style reforms to Afghanistan in the program, I also found it boring. It was like one of those horrible moments in SF novels where the author decides they need to explain the details of faster-than-light space flight that they’ve made up for their universe. “Now is the Time” (by Joy Wilkinson) had a real “End of the Tsars” feeling to it, but instead of really focusing on the human drama and the interaction between the characters, it just kept layering on the historical detail as if that were the real purpose of the play. It’s a shame, really, because the question of whether or not Amanullah Khan shot his own father to become king of Afghanistan was really interesting and highly relevant to the question of whether or not he’d just betrayed his father in law (Mahmud Tarzi, played by Vincent Ebrahim) in order to save his own skin. We’re talking serious tension, all of which is eventually let out like air from a balloon as the three leads pile back into their car and head off to Russia with their driver. It really just was not good enough, and Jemima Rooper was also failing to hit it as Soroya Tarzi, daughter of Mahmud and wife of Amanullah. To top it off, I swear their accents all sounded fake.

Overall, though, with such a fast moving pace (six stories between 8 PM and 10:05) and low ticket price (£13), I considered this a good evening – not enough to make me want to sit through the full day showing off all plays in the cycle, but enough to want to come back for part 2 or part 3.

(This review is for a play seen on May 6th, 2008. The Great Game continues through June 16th at The Tricycle. Support new theater – go see this show!)

Find me a ticket to Tunnel 228!

May 8, 2009

Dammit, I only yesterday read about the Punchdrunk Art in the Abandoned Tunnels project, and the damned thing is full! If anyone has ANY ability to get an extra ticket to me, can you please let me know? My gratitude would know no bounds!

LATER: WOOT! I scored! Going on Sunday!

EVEN LATER: My tips on getting tickets, and my review, now online.

Review – Mixed Bill (Les Sylphides, Sensorium, The Firebird) – Royal Ballet at the Royal Opera House

May 5, 2009

Last night I hustled off of a southbound train and dashed to the ROH for a triple bill that included the debut of a new work. I love seeing new stuff; it’s the dance equivalent of a new life being brought into the world. The program itself was the typical mix of “don’t scare ’em off” stuff that usually comes with a new piece, in this case Les Sylphides (one of the all time classic, old school white ballets) and The Firebird (which I love and had seen for a second time this fall at Sadler’s Wells), with the new piece as the filling to this sandwich. Fortunately with such solid “bread” I was easily able to convince two more people to come with, so it was C, J, W and myself filling our upper balcony seats.

When I’d booked the tickets, the title of the new work wasn’t known, but with the cast list clenched in my hands, I saw that I was to see “Sensorium,” by Alastair Marriott, a choreographer I hadn’t heard of before. (Apparently he used to be an ROH dancer.) The music was to be by Debussy, and tonight was the premiere. What luck! But first we had Les Sylphides, a dance I had never seen before – well, I think: I might have seen the Trockaderos performing it over fifteen years ago! The music was extremely familiar, but I guess it being Chopin means it’s not exactly obscure. Unfortunately the vestigal memories of the Trocaderos made it a bit hard to get comfortable with the ballet’s extremely traditional aesthetic, which was seeming at times a bit too precious and dying to have a man on toe shoes stomping through it. Still, it was lovely to watch and gorgeous to listen to, but a review can pretty much only say, “It was Les Sylphides done well” – I don’t feel like there’s any more to add to it than that. It’s a big pack of girls in fluffy white skirts and little wings posing and dancing – though watching one dancer doing a move that required her to step on her foot, then somehow spring backwards onto her toe, then down again, then up, moving slowly backwards on the stage, made me think that ballerinas are all just incredibly brave to be able to do something that looked so incredibly painful with an expression on her face that was all beauty and grace. Unfortunately I can’t credit the dancer, but the Valse was danced by Laura Morera, the woman’s Mazurka was performed by Lauren Cuthbertson, and the Prelude was Yuhui Choe – any clues to the proper movement would be welcome.

This confusion reminds me: I really wish I could afford floor seats. In Seattle, I knew the Pacific Northwest Ballet dancers by name all the way to the corps, but here, I don’t even recognize most of the principals after two years. It’s depressing. Maybe remembering to bring my binoculars more will help.

Next was Sensorium. The curtain came up on a stage with a big beige metal swirl backdrop and a bunch of circular spotlights (which at different times would get larger and then smaller) on a cast of aqua and cream clad dancers. It was … not very exciting, and difficult for me to describe it. There was some interesting partnering going on, and while at the beginning I thought I saw traces of William Forsythe, his raw energy wasn’t present. Instead, a man would place a dancer, whom he’d held over his shoulder with her head below her hips then rotated over his body, so that her feet very carefully hit a spot under his bent legs. There was a lot of this very geometrical movement of dancers, but it didn’t seem to have real fire. The corps were fun to watch – I noted that their spins (of many sorts) actually made them look airier than the fairies of the previous dance, though sometimes their movement was not smooth. Overall, my feeling is that this was not a success, and will probably be revived at most once more before being retired. That said, the Debussy music was delicious and actually formed a nice pair with the Stravinsky that followed.

Firebird … it’s hard to talk about this one much when it was so very much the same staging (Fokine’s choreography, Natalia Gontcharova designs) I saw the Birmingham Royal Ballet perform twice in the last two years, though the set looked quite a bit cheaper (especially the apple tree). Mara Galeazzi was a strong and lovely Firebird, Thiago Soares a fairly appropriate Tsavevich with rather not much dancing to do other than partnering Ms. Galeazzi. But there was a panic and otherworldliness missing from her performance that I’d come to love with BRB. Also, the apple-tossing scene with enchanted princesses wasn’t as tight as it should have been – I supposed most ballerinas don’t spend a lot of time playing catch, but when the balls soar perfectly in time to the music it’s a magical experience. While the costumes overall were in keeping with the original design (I would guess), with the strange African and Hopi flavors in the various monsters of the middle section (in which the Tsar fights for his life with the Immortal Kostchei), the final scene just fell completely flat.. It’s a kind of a pageant, in which Ivan Tsarevich and The Beautiful Tsarevna are crowned and receive honors from their subjects (for freeing them from enchantment, I assume) – but, whereas for Birmingham Royal Ballet, this scene had so much gold and pizazz that it looked like a Gustav Klimt painting come to life, the Royal Ballet’s production looked instead like it were modeled after a deck of playing cards that didn’t come to life at all. It was a bit of a letdown that this performance, which could end on such a high note, instead squeaked out like a balloon losing its helium.

Overall, this evening was pleasant enough, but failed to catch fire. Still, it reminded me that I need to see more ballet, and that I’m lucky to have such a great ballet company in town and funded well enough to do original productions several times a year. If I suddenly became rich, you know this is how I’d be leaving my name on the world – adding to the permanent supply of beauty with another lovely ballet.

(This review is for a performance that took place on Monday, May 4th, 2009.)

Review – Peer Gynt – National Theatre of Scotland and Dundee Rep Ensemble at the Barbican

May 3, 2009

On Thursday night J and I went to the Barbican to see the National Theatre of Scotland and Dundee Rep Ensemble‘s production of Peer Gynt. I was excited about this show for two main reasons. First, I love Ibsen, and I have never seen Peer Gynt before. Second, the National Theatre of Scotland’s Black Watch was supposed to be one of the theatrical events last year, and since I’d missed out on it, I wanted to see just what made this company’s work so outstanding. High hopes, eh? And I’d managed to score 8th row center seats, probably the best I’ve ever had at the Barbican.

The stage is fully opened and very bare as the story starts. The Barbican’s main stage is just a barn, and it really makes it difficult to get an intimacy to the proceedings with the 50 foot tall rafters looming above. A table and a chair or two stood in front of what looked like a billboard of the fjords of Norway; to the sides, a lowered area held chairs and what looked like about 16 people (8 on each side), sitting in chairs, who appeared to be fresh from a wedding party or hen do (the trampy clothing of the woman were confusing me but one woman was in her bridal gear); behind the wall a ramp led some two stories up from the rest of the proceedings, to a platform that looked like rather a drop to the floor below. In front of the billboard, a man dressed all in white (Cliff Burnett, sort of a cross between Nick Cave and Colonel Sanders) was playing an accordion, but he moved off stage as Peer Gynt (Keith Fleming in a tour-de-force performance) appeared, being bawled out by his old mom (Ann Louise Ross) for disappearing on a bender.

Peer Gynt looks to be an out of shape man in his middle 20s, and there’s no doubt in my mind that his character is truly a touchstone of Western play writing. I can’t speak to Ibsen’s original, but this Gynt was a grandiose drunk prone to big dreams (singing “Peer Gynt the emperor” to a tune by the Pet Shop Boys) and telling ridiculous stories to mask his shortcomings. And his shortcomings are many; no job, no girlfriend, mocked by the town (played by the wedding guests, who make snorting noises when they see him), his family’s money dwindling around him. His mom wants him to use his limited charms to actually pull the only girl in town who likes him enough to marry him, just to save her from financial ruin; but Gynt is terminally incapable of following through on any plan, even if it’s only one that would take a few hours to execute.

What he does truly excel at is storytelling, even if it’s clear that the yarns he spins are nothing but lies, tales he’s often heard elsewhere and then tried to sell as his own (as he is caught doing several times). He starts the play out taking his mom on a magic reindeer ride (on the top of a spotlit table), telling her how he rode one across hill and dale and finally down over the edge of a cliff, plunging through clouds of seagulls as he fell, a moment of storytelling and dramatic imagery that actually set the wrong stage for the evening, as this was the very best moment of the entire play, when two people standing on a table created a forest with trees and giant stags in my mind simply through their words, and nothing that happened for the rest of this evening, an evening focused on spectacle over drama, would come near it.

I want to emphasize just how much of a spectacle this evening was. I saw many things I’d never seen on a stage before: a hanged man disco-dancing; a person having a near-death experience in a plane while being seduced by a demon; the lead character being sexually assaulted by a person in a gorilla suit; a woman giving birth to a wriggling piglet. I mean, WOW, there was so much going on stage – so much that I lost my ability to care about anything I was watching around about the second hour (despite going, “Wow, never seen that before. How long is this play again?”).

Peer Gynt, touchstone of Western drama that he is, is a hard character to like, as all anti-heroes are, but I felt like I should have been more emotionally invested in what was happening to and around him. But I couldn’t rouse myself to care about Gynt any more than he could rouse himself to fix his life. The pretty girl he loved, the strange journey through his future, all of the madness with trolls … none of it moved me. It’s like somehow amidst the cavernous spaces of the Barbican’s stage, the story just got lost. Maybe it was hiding under a pile of trolls. Really, I didn’t care; I just wanted it to be over, or to get interesting again, but it didn’t happen.

Needless to say, I was disappointed by this show, even while I was occasionally impressed by its scale and vision. But like Gynt himself, Peer Gynt would have benefited from focusing on having a focus instead of flailing all over the place in a desperate attempt to make and be something grand. At three hours and eight minutes running time, it just doesn’t reward its investment. I’ll be waiting for a real production to come by and advising people to skip this.

(This review is for a show on Thursday the 30th of April, 2009. It continues through May 16th. For other opinions, see < ahref=”http://www.viewfromthestalls.co.uk/2007/10/peer-gynt-october-2007.html&#8221;)View from the Stalls and the London Theatre Blog.

£10 deals for May – Plague over England, Dancing at Lughnasa, On the Waterfront, the Tigerlillies, and more

May 1, 2009

As the season changes and shows come to the end of their runs, there are good deals to be had for the patient theater-goer. First, there’s a one day only deal for Dancing at Lughnasa at the Old Vic for May 4th, Bank Holiday Monday, the only discount I’ve seen on this show for its whole run. To get it, call the box office at 09=870 060 6628 and quote “Metro.” Everyone I know has been really enthusiastic about this show, so this is a great opportunity to see it for pennies (as it were) on the dollar (as it were again). It ends May 9th so I don’t think they’ll be repeating the offer.

Also ending their runs and sweetening their pots are Plague over England at the Duchess Theater(£10 tickets for all shows except Saturday evenings, promo code ATG12), running through May 16th, and Woman in Mind (ditto, ATG13) at the Vaudeville Theatre through May 30th.

Meanwhile, TheLondonPaper are running a deal for The Tiger Lillies for £10 at the Soho Theatre through May 9th, but I’m going a bit crazy trying to find the specifics of the promo as I’ve left my copy of the Thursday LondonPaper at home. Ah, figured it out: call the theater (020 7478 0100) and say you saw the deal in the LondonPaper! Easy peasy. 🙂

In a more future-oriented view, the shockingly helpful Evening Standard have piles of tickets for ENO at £10 each. Così fan Tutte,
Madam Butterfly and L’Amour de Loin – you could have a summer full of opera for pennies! To get the opera, go to this page, select a date and location (dress circle or balcony), and choose your tickets! Cosi dates are May 29 through July 5, Butterfly is June 10 through July 10, and L’Amour is July 3 through July 11th.

All of these are of course in addition to the normal £10 series at the National and the ready availability of £10 seats at the Royal Court Theater, where I’m catching Aunt Dan and Lemon at that price on Tuesday, May 26th. Exquisite Corpse at the Southwark Playhouse can also be enjoyed for even less, £8, if you book far enough in advance. Enjoy!