Review – A Tribute to Diaghilev (four original works by MacGregor, Maliphant, Cherkaoui, De Frutos) – Sadler’s Wells

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Sadler’s Wells’ “In the Spirit of Diaghilev” program offered quite a show – four world premieres by four different choreographers in one night! First up was Wayne MacGregor’s “Dyad 1909” (which I kept reading as “dryad”), influenced by the polar expeditions taking place at this time. The piece opened with a man in a parka collapsing on stage, but then moved into the typical, non-narrative motion that is his style. The three set pieces seemed at time to be ice, in bergs or cubes; at other times they showed movies (scenes from the remaining explorers’ huts, then later what looked like deep sea fish). I saw in the films parallels between man’s desire to explore as expressed 100 years ago and now, but a Diaghilev connection wasn’t apparent to me.

The movement seemed to reflect themes of the movies. Sometimes it was the struggle to survive; sometimes I saw the movements of strange fish. At times I saw echoes of Merce Cunningham’s “Beach Birds.” I wound up focusing on the dancers’ feet, which a few times I saw guesturing as expressively (and sexily) as hands might. All of the members of my group enjoyed this work enthusiastically (though reports from the next night cited tech failures); Olafur Arnalds shoul in particular be congratulated for his wonderfully atmospheric score.

The 2nd piece, Russell Maliphant’s “AfterLight,” was so obviously a tribute to Nijinski I didn’t have to read the program notes to figure it out. A man with his hair held down against his head (more in a stocking than a turban) whirled on stage, his arm held gracefully in front of him. His movement was sinuous; he seemed completely unaware of the audience. Flickering light and shadows played on his body from overhead. As he moved through them, it seemed that what we were seeing was some memory of Nijinski. Then, as the circle of light grew smaller and the effect of the flickering became dizzying, it was as if an old movie of him dancing had been brought to life. Often solo pieces have a habit of falling flat or being gimmicky but Daniel Proietto totally deserved the enthusiastic applause he received last night.

The lights were up just long enough for a live Twitter update, then back down again for “Faun.” Behind the stage a sylvan scene; in front, a barely clad tousled blond man napped on the stage. As Debussy’s score slithered up from the pit, he stretched his arms, his legs, he slowly started to work all of his body as if remembering what it felt to be alive was a daily joy of rediscovery.

Then, inevitably, a woman appeared on stage; seemingly a spirit of the woods herself and accompanied by gorgeous Indian-style music. I imagined us in the woods of the Ramayana, where Sita and Ram lived after being expelled from the palace. She also rolled and stretched, picking herself up on her arms with her legs arched over her back; displaying a gorgeous athleticism. With her powerful thighs, she looked less like an underfed waif (as do some ballerinas) rather than a gymnast – much more of a force to be reckoned with, and the Faun’s equal.

Next, of course, was a long, long duet with the nymph and the faun. In the way their limbs intertwined I saw the recreation of erotic Hindu temple carvings – legs wrapped around waists, one head serving a different pair of arms, body against body until you no longer knew what belonged to whom. I found the delicate intimacy of this movement quite heady, especially the way they used their feet both to balance against each other and then lift each other, just carefully, carefully lifting like a pair of circus performer would. And it wasn’t a male-dominated piece, either – Daisy Phillips was also carrying James O’Hara on her body, powered with her strong legs. This was no pair of city-bred lovers restrained by their social ties – these two were pure animal sensuality and an utter pleasure to watch. Such a treat!

Then after the second intermission, it was time for the final work of the night, by dark horse Javier de Frutos. Fortunately I remembered to read the program before this piece started, which is a must if one is to make any sense of it. “Eternal Damnation to Sancho and Sanchez,” it’s called, and it claims to be inspired by Jean Cocteau. I was warned (by the notes) that this piece featured fertility rites, a lecherous pope, a prostitute, sexual assault and murder, but still somehow it managed to both rise above (and fall below) my expectations, starting when the curtain rose and the backdrop was revealed to be three walls covered with semi-artistic pornographic drawings. As I watched the characters introducing themselves and then the pope blundering about on stage, suddenly I made sense of the underlying chanting I could hear: in Spanish, “Blessed Maria, pray for us sinners …” Oh dear. I’m not Catholic (obviously), but I got the feeling that this was probably hitting a lot of buttons for those who were, and likely for anyone who identifies strongly as Christian (what with the rape and buggery taking place on stage – though there was no actual nudity). As the shrieks of dismay from the female dancers rose, a few audience members trickled out … and then we started to move to the, er, climax of the show, and I think some twenty had fled from the stalls. Did they want to see a woman strangled with rosary beads and watch an execution by electrocution? Probably not, and perhaps the round of booing (a first for me to hear in London!) was due to anger at the violence.

I have to applaud this piece for providing such a truly Diaghilev-like ending to the evening. It set out to be offensive and rude and succeeded marvellously. I couldn’t rip my eyes away from the catastrophe of violence taking place in front of me. But what’s sad is that it actually seemed to fail to live up to the satire Cocteau was aiming for – we got ick and neon, but a little more focus on the scheming mentioned in the synopsis and the addition huge cup-fulls of humor would have made for a much better piece, both more watchable and more interesting. Still, I would have wanted to have kept all of the blasphemy intact – Diaghilev wouldn’t have had it any other way.

Overall, my congratulations to Sadlers Wells for a truly memorable night! If Sergei had been turning in his grave, it would have only been to get a better view.

(This review is for the premiere performance, which took place on Tuesday, October 13th, 2009. It continues through the 17th.)

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4 Responses to “Review – A Tribute to Diaghilev (four original works by MacGregor, Maliphant, Cherkaoui, De Frutos) – Sadler’s Wells”

  1. Review – The Comedians – Lyric Hammersmith « Life in the Cheap Seats – Webcowgirl’s London theatre reviews Says:

    […] Life in the Cheap Seats – Webcowgirl’s London theatre reviews London Theater reviews by an American expat – on a budget « Review – A Tribute to Diaghilev (four original works by MacGregor, Maliphant, Cherkaoui, De Fr… […]

  2. De Frutos is banned by the BBC; too offensive for Christmas « Life in the Cheap Seats – Webcowgirl’s London theatre reviews Says:

    […] is banned by the BBC; too offensive for Christmas By webcowgirl Wow! The last act of the Diaghilev tribute I saw in October has been judged so offensive that the BBC won’t show it. I am so amused. […]

  3. Review – Royal Ballet Triple Bill (Asphodel Meadows, Carmen +1) – Royal Opera House « Life in the Cheap Seats – Webcowgirl’s London theatre reviews Says:

    […] the hysterically awful I refer to as “the baddicle,” right there with de Fruto’s infamous spectacle at the Sadler’s Wells’ Diaghilev show last fall. I might have been able to make some love in my heart for dancers in metallic […]

  4. Mini-review – FAR – Wayne McGregor’s Random Dance at Sadler’s Wells « Life in the Cheap Seats – Webcowgirl’s London theatre reviews Says:

    […] better than a lot of things McGregor has done in the last two years (i.e. the very yawny “Dyad 1909“) and there was certainly less grotesquerie just for the sake; but I wasn’t really able […]

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