Archive for February, 2010

Dance review – Gala Flamenca (Molina, Galván, Liñán, López) – 2010 Salder’s Wells Flamenco Festival

February 27, 2010

The Gala is always the event at the Sadler’s Wells Flamenco Festival that sells out, and I booked tickets for this way, way in advance. By the time I’d seen three other shows, I was ready for a night that was not about a “show,” with a through line, but about four people basically coming to the dance floor with their gloves off, ready for a fight to the finish. To be sure, the stage was stripped for this evening, barely doing more than putting color on the back of the stage, moving chairs around, and sticking two low wooden boxes on the floor for one number; it was really all about the dancers, with the musicians the same for all performers (though they did get some time to just sing and play guitar, which was lovely as ever).

We started with tiny, Bjork-esque Rocio Molino, whom I’d seen the year before. She came on stage in a brown leather skirt, jacket, and shirt that made her look like a tough as nails biker chick, complete with cowboy boots, then proceeded to stomp those damned boots into the ground, first as a solo, then with two guys. Sadly, this was the weakest part of the evening; Molino showed what I consider to be a lack of maturity as a dancer, hitting the footwork technique really hard but almost forgetting there was anything else she could do with her arms besides make pointing gestures. She also didn’t do much of the “connecting with the audience” thing and I began to get tired of her machine gun presentation. Flamenco, to me, is a lot more about building up that intensity; Molino was going for straight for a home run without bothering to round the bases. She also changed into some incredibly unfortunate outfits that made her look like a teenaged French runaway in Rochefort. Ah well, maybe next year she’ll remember to dance with her whole body and get more than one costume to wear.

Next up was Belén López, whose choice of a pantsuit made me fear we were going to get more of the same masculine, footwork driven style; but somehow she was pulling passion and fire out of it and getting a kind of crazy light in her eye that made me think she was actually enjoying herself. Ole! She wasn’t doing too much with her arms but she was so much more _there_ that she just firmly put Molina in her place as “on her way up” but not there.

We then had a fascinating solo by Manuel Liñán, a shockingly blonde man who came out with a cane, giving me a bit of a fear that Bob Fosse was about to make his presence known. Truthfully, the cane thing had been done the night before by the men with Maria Pages, and they made a more musical event of it, but Liñán came off like a dangerous man, a Mac the Knife in high-waisted pants. He played with his cane like a weapon; sliding, teasing, potentially violent. I was glad when he finally tossed it away and just danced; he’s a fun guy to watch, but once again I felt like he was being rather inflexible with his choreography and not connected to the singers and clappers.

Then our last dancer came on: Pastora Galván, who clearly needed to give all of the dancers lessons in how to use their arms to express their dance and make it whole. And yet, she was still doing rather too much “holding up her skirt” rather than drawing expressive pictures in the air, and I felt disappointed. C’mon, woman, I know you have it in you, rock the house out! But instead she seemed to be not very checked in, maybe just doing for the paycheck or something. She was flat. Wah.

The evening ended with a three-way dance off, Galvan the spirit of the old in a rather unimpressive long skirted red dress, Linan and Lopez snazzy in black velvet with red accents. While they all worked together, it seemed once again that Pastora was dialling it in, moving her skirt with long practice but not tight and focused at all. Meanwhile, Lopez, merely cracking her castanets and doing some shimmies in her long black skirt (well, there was footwork as well), looked to be having more fun that everyone else on stage. She was burning it up and Linan was about able to keep up with her.

Then, as we ended the show, everyone came out to take our bows, but finally we got some true improv; a bit of singing and dancing from the great female singer; dancing from both of the clapping women; then a flamenco cat-fight dance off between Molina and Lopez. It was good to see Molina actually looking like she was having fun; I’m sure she’ll season up nicely. Meanwhile, Belen Lopez was the woman who rocked the house tonight, and you’ll know it as well as I do because you won’t be able to get your eyes off of her. Best of luck getting in tomorrow night: it was a great night out.

(This review is for a performance that took place on Friday, February 26th, 2008. The final show of this and the Flamenco festival is tomorrow, Saturday, February 27th, and is sold out. Good luck getting tickets and otherwise Ballet Nacional Espanol is coming later in the year as well as some other Flamenco performers.)

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Review – Maria Pagés and Company – 2010 Sadler’s Wells Flamenco Festival

February 25, 2010

Tonight’s trip to see Maria Pages at Sadler’s Wells has me convinced that there’s almost a deliberate curatorial choice to program better and better groups as the flamenco festival progresses; it was even better than the very fine Eva Yerbabuena a few days ago and leaps away from Nuevo Ballet Espanol.

Pages chose to, in some ways, go for an even purer flamenco representation; the performance took place on an almost consistently bare stage with an arc of musicians to the rear. There were a very few bits of stage dressing: a mirror; a large, golden, wood picture frame; a series of somewhat smaller frames. It was clear that the focus was on the dancing and the music. Thank goodness the costuming rose to meet the challenge; rather than the crayon cartoonishness of Nuevo Ballet or the relentless bleakness of Eva, we had a series of gorgeous dresses for Pages: pinkish and bias cut with purple net fluttering above it; green shimmering into blue ruffles that looked like a peacock’s tail; a cut velvet thing that took big dares with green and gold and purple and came out looking like a 20s Spanish fantasy. The four women dancers were given gorgeous dresses of a generally simple, yet not boring cut that lent themselves to movement; best of all was when the quartet came out in pastel Chinese dressing gowns. They must have been warm but they looked like a flock of songbirds or strangely transplanted Mikado chorus girls.

And the dancing? Well, from the very start, I was reminded that there is so much more to flamenco than stamping feet. Yes, there are fans and castanets (the show had both, and tossed in some canes for the men to use like extra shoes, tapping on the ground); yes, you can do showy things with trailing skirts and flying shawls (Rothbart could really pick up a trick or two from Pages’ golden cape); but flamenco uses your whole body and that means from the toes to the fingertips. Pages’ arms were a lesson in how it ought to be done for all of those young girls who think the only thing they’re supposed to be doing with their hands on stage is holding their skirts up like fishwives. She arced her arms and twisted and fluttered her wrists and expressed entire worlds of emotions before she did more than draw a slow circle on the ground with her toe; I saw echoes of Kate Winslet’s hand guesturing somewhat helplessly toward a fogged up window in Titanic. Pages had that kind of eloquence, and it seemed to inform her entire company; the women seemed to try to tell the dance with all of their body instead of just their shoes. The black dressed men, meanwhile, were laughing and rat-a-tat-tat and seemingly having a good time playing and flinging their sweaty hair around; none of them seemed a particular standout but in their elaborate interactions with their female companions and with Pages they seemed happy enough to be birds of paradise enacting ritualized dances of passion among their somewhat distant potential mates.

If this show lacked anything, it was the sense of improvisation and connection I love so much about flamenco, a trait I see very much as “jazzy;” it’s a very live artform, not one that handles unison group dancing and canned step sequences very well. Everyone seemed to have their work for the evening pretty cut out for them and I didn’t much see them responding to each other or making eye contact. Still, I felt the level of artistry was very high, and a long way from Gold Coast tourist tablaos. With the skill getting better every night, I can’t wait for the big gala tomorrow.

(This review is for a performance that took place on Thursday, February 25, 2010. The final performances in the 2010 Flamenco Festival take place Friday and Saturday, with the sold-out Gala Flamenca. I’ve got tickets; read it and weep!)

Review – Lost Soul Music (The Devil You Know) – White Rose Theatre at the Pleasance

February 25, 2010

On Wednesday I went to the opening night performance of “Lost Soul Music,” a series of one act musicals being performed in pairs at the Pleasance Theater in Islington (near Caledonian Road station). I was intrigued by the premise – I’m a big fan of the musical and I most certainly want to encourage the production of new ones, and White Rose Theater company’s mission to “save the musical” is decidedly a noble one. Producers Chris Bush and Ian McCluskey also had some pretty good creds from earlier productions at the Edinburgh Fringe, so when Mr. Bush contacted me about coming to review this show, I figured, why not.

The night I attended, the two productions on offer were “The Devil You Know” and “Simon Says” The curtain (as it were – there was none, but work with me) rose on a young woman in a one-shouldered red dress singing what was likely the theme song (“The Devil You Know”) to the accompaniment of three musicians, in a languorous, loungey way that I found very non-musical theater but still very enjoyable. What would be next? I imagined perhaps a hard-boiled detective story, or any other tale in which you could reasonably involve a woman who sings in a nightclub (somehow this worked in State Fair so I figure it can be incorporated into any show).

Then she peeled out of this into a monologue about growing up (in northern England? Southern England? Australia?) in a seemingly normal family that was somehow haunted by her mother’s ancient bedstead and its carvings of imps and devils. This rambled on until … ta dah! A man with heavy eyeliner and gray blusher came out of the back of the set. He quickly established himself as the “devil inside” of this character. Optimistically, I thought that this might mean she was actually possessed (shades of Carrie!) or that perhaps she was an ax murderer (Lizzie Borden!).

But, as it turned out, this devil, and the she-devil who sowed up later, were actually only her internal voices of self-doubt. We were treated to a list of these doubts: did she make the right decision here, was a friend who disappeared actually running away from her, did her choice to reject a man she loved because he was violent lead to his actual wife’s breakdown. In short, did every decision she made in trying to do right ultimately result in her doing wrong?

Despite the fact that there were also songs by the demons, there was little this show could do to rise above what was ultimately a thin, and, in my mind, essentially non-musical theater premise. A struggle with doubt over such uninteresting actions simply didn’t have the oomph to make a musical. Now, struggling over whether or not to avenge your father’s death by murdering your uncle … that’s more like it! This show, however, wouldn’t have succeeded even without music – it was just too thin a premise to be interesting. It was a good showcase, in a fringe theater way, for the actress in the red dress … but it was just dull. When the act was over, we were “invited to come back after the interval,” which I took as an invitation to head back home. Unlike the lead character of this show, I had no doubts about what was the right thing for ME to do. Were any of the other shows, such as the pair “Fisher of Men” and “Signed, Sealed, Delivered,” better? You’ll have to wait for them to be reviewed on A Younger Theater to find out; as for me, I won’t be returning for more.

(This review is for a show seen on Wednesday, February 24th, 2010. There are two entirely different shows in the repertory besides this one and its companion piece; see the White Rose Theater website for details. Lost Soul Music continues through Sunday 14th March at the Pleasance Theater.)

Ballet review – As One, Rushes, Infra – Royal Ballet at the Royal Opera House

February 23, 2010

On Friday I went to the Royal Opera House to catch the world premiere of “As One,” the first mainstage ballet create by Jonathan Watkins of the Royal Ballet. I always try to catch triple bills like this one, but there was the extra added bonus of highly affordable stalls seats and a Wayne MacGregor ballet to entice me to come. Still, brand new ballet! It’s always a cause to celebrate.

While I’m happy that Royal Ballet is giving new choreographers the experience of working on the mainstage, I’m afraid “As One” didn’t really gel for me, despite the generally enthusiastic reception it’s received elsewhere (see Ballet.co.uk for the long list). The varied scenes, moving from random dancing to a party to people sitting in a waiting room, seemed to have little common thread linking them, and individually, while there was perhaps some interesting movement, I wasn’t able to catch a real narrative to make the arabesque HERE mimed use of channel changer HERE form any kind of coherent whole. The best scene to me was Laura Morera and Edward Watson’s “Channel Surfing” scene, in which a couple dealt with the familiar “all you do is watch TV, you never pay attention to me” conundrum, though I didn’t really feel it worth of depiction on stage. However, their interaction was very real, and lent itself to the final sequence of the ballet, which seemed to be saying “If only we could get into that little box, we could actually be living real lives – or maybe it’s the fantasy we need to bring into reality.” While I enjoyed Simon Daw’s flexible set design, I found the production overall a limp squib, one that I think won’t be getting remounted anywhere else and will be lucky even to be revived again. Still, I’m glad to have seen it, and I’m looking forward to watching Watkins grow over time.

Next up was “Rushes,” a piece I’d not seen before, but given that the music was by Prokofiev and Carlos Acosta was going to be providing an (unexpected for me) star turn, I was feeling pretty positive about the possibilities. This ballet was full of mysteries for me (especially since I hadn’t shelled out for a program – why have they become so expensive?), but, watching the movie projected on the bead screen at the front of the stage and the strange Expressionist set behind, I decided to read it as a story about a person who’d fallen in love with a movie star (Laura Morera, the woman in the red dress) – not a real person, but someone who only existed inside of the movies (sort of like Neil Gaiman’s short story “Goldfish Pond”). As I read it, he was able to break into his fantasy world, but was ultimately rejected by it and forced to return to reality, where poor Alina Cojocaru was still waiting for him.

Carlos was, as ever, a great partner – well, okay, he did actually look like he was having a problem getting Alina over his shoulders smoothly – and he performed cartwheels and hanstands effortlessly. Still, there’s something increasingly heavy about how he moves, and he’s having a hard time holding the stage after Steve McRae comes on. This production seemed well suited to the Carlos persona, however, and instead of wincing at overacting, instead I was able to just enjoy his unfettered displays of passion. And yay for Kim Brandstrup, I really enjoyed this ballet.

In keeping with the night’s theme of “the inability to make human connection,” we finished with MacGregor’s “Infra,” a work I’d seen before. This was much improved by being watched from the stalls, as from my normal upper amphitheater seats, Julian Opie’s videoscape of animated people walking across the upper half of the stage (hanging in the air) is on equal weight with the actual people and very difficult to ignore. Now I could really focus on the dancers, and, as ever, given amazing choreography, they rose to the challenge. Like last time, the most can’t-tear-your-eyes away moment was the duet Erik Underwood performed with (was it?) Sarah Lamb, a tiny slip of a woman (perhaps the same couple MacGregor used in “Limen” though I’m not sure).

I spent some time trying to understand why this duet was so much more emotionally powerful than the ones that were taking place even within the same work, and I think it came down to them making eye contact with each other throughout; instead of the woman just being manipulated by the man, she was a full partner in what they were doing, and the effect was heady, not to mention erotic (the undulating hips added to it a lot). I knew what was coming, though; the dance would lead to the point of abandonment, the tiny blonde curled up on stage, wrecked, while the many other people – the tide of humanity – walked by her. There are so many of us and yet it is so hard to connect with each other, and it’s heartbreaking to be reminded of our essential loneliness. Still, to feel like that watching ballet on stage is actually rather uplifting – it’s a wonderful place to find beauty in sadness, and a great feeling to walk out into the night with. Overall, this was a good triple bill, and I’m really glad to have been there.

(This review is for a performance that took place on Friday, February 19th, 2010. The program continues through March 4th.)

Review – Lluvia – Eva Yerbabuena, Sadler’s Wells’ Flamenco Festival 2010

February 20, 2010

Lluvia, Eva Yerbabuena’s contribution to the 2010 Sadler’s Wells’ Flamenco Festival, was a breath of fresh air after the macho posturings of Nuevo Ballet Espanol. The style was also completely different: it was modern flamenco, with plenty of heel and toe work, but a focus on expressiveness, storytelling, and “pure” dance (of a sort that frequently reminded me of Martha Graham).

We started off with a crowd of people standing in front of a brick wall, and then moved into a scene which was mostly a duet with Eva (I assume) and a tall, slim male dancer (Eduardo Guerrerro). This made me laugh a bit because she started, then he would move in front of her and block her from the audience’s view. Finally, they did a great bit where both of their arms were moving together and it became less of a power struggle, but what I liked is that it was clear that this time, for this performance, it was not going to be about the woman standing in the man’s shadow. It built into a long dance involving a table through which Eva and Eduardo were reaching for each other (it all seemed to be about having a broken heart) which had very little flamenco styling and a lot of modern dance and _lots_ of good music, thoroughly erasing Ballet Nuevo and its cheesy touristic production from my mind.

The most fun of the evening was a long section in which the four supporting dancers (Mercedes de Cordoba, Lorena Franco, Fernando Jimenez, and Eduardo) and Eva “found” a trunk full of costumes, which led to everyone putting on fun, pastelly 20’s style dances and just kind of jamming out to the singers and musicians, who were mostly gathered around a big wooden table. Eduardo played with fans, Eva stole roses, the whole thing was very lighthearted but led to a fantastic solo by Mr. Guerrerro that had the house roaring. He drew circles in the air with his hands, he shook his shoulders, he played with flicking his jacket off, he was NOT just about fancy footwork, he was totally centering the energies of the four singers surrounding him. It didn’t even feel like the piece was “about” him, he was just having a good time dancing, and the energy really carried.

The final piece had Eva wearing a gorgeous black dress with a ruffled skirt trailing behind it and rhinestones up the side, a truly amazing outfit that had her looking like a Spanish Odile – I could have easily have imagined it covered with feathers! She showed a real expertise at what I imagine to be a very difficult Flamenco style – the skirt really gets in the way, frequently forcing the dancer to stay in one position, and motion requires constant attention to moving the train of the skirt. But she was able to flick it around like a kitten with a ball of string. She stood and arched and worked her hands because she wanted to, because she wanted to make a beautiful image with her skirt curling behind her, and when she wanted to move or change direction, the tiny kick to move it was as unnoticable as a flick of her fingers. But she also understood how to make the dress work with the dance, at one point kicking it off to the left and then turning herself to the right so it wrapped around her ankles like waves around a rock.

Eva really gave it all to this long solo and I felt it showed off her skills and personality tremendously. It also emphasized to me the overall superior artistic merit of her “backing band” – I believe that they, and the dancers working with her, felt that to be in this ensemble meant working at a high level of artistry, one they could feel proud being a part of. Enrique El Extremeno, Pepe de Pura, Jeromo Segura and Jose Valencia sang so well that they made me wish I could have bought a CD just to enjoy their great voices. I think Eva wore herself out during her long solo – there was a break at one point, and when she started again, she wasn’t able to recapture the fire. But it was the end of a long evening and I felt it was only fair for her to be tired. I had certainly enjoyed myself – the fresh choreography, great flamenco, and high spirits of this group were well worth watching.

(This review is for a performance that took place on Thursday, February 18th, 2010 – the final performance of this group. The Sadler’s Wells 2010 Flamenco Festival continues through February 27th.)

Review – Disconnect – Royal Court (Jerwood Theatre Upstairs)

February 18, 2010

Tonight J and I went to the Royal Court to see “Disconnect,” Anupama Chandrasekhar’s new play about the lives of Indian call center workers. It was performed in the far, far upper reaches of the theater, the Jerwood Theatre Upstairs, which was new to me. Normally horrifying general, unmarked seating was thoroughly compensated for due to good legroom and “Corinthian Leather” bench seats that were actually comfy, and no crazed, EastJet-like scrum for a place.

The show is fully focused on an Indian debt-collection agency, the sort that has its staff use American names and (not sure if this happens, but it did in the show) assume American identities that help them better “empathize” with their marks. We start out the show focused on low-level manager Avinash (Paul Bhattacharjee), a middle aged, long term employee who’s being given his review by Jyothi (Hasina Haque, struggling with the accent). See, Avinash isn’t young and hip enough for this company, which wants its employees to be happy – and double their targets for the month, so he’s got a choice – leave, or take over the lowest performing team in the company.

Quickly the action moves to Avinash’s new territory, the “Illinois” team, who work in a windowless, fourth-floor office. We meet outgoing Ross (Nikesh Patel), efficient but flirty Vidya (Ayesha Dharker), and new kid on the block Giri (Neet Mohan). After expecting a horrifying pack of near-robots, the debt collectors turn out to be amazingly personable, teasing and cajoling their customers into giving them some of their near-nonexistent cash. It’s a hard market: America is, after all, in a recession, and the kids hear all of the horror stories out there. Their camaraderie and repartee is broken by the arrival of Avinash, who tells them it’s time to stick by the script.

At this point I thought the story was going to become about how the three young folks ganged up against the rigid old man, possibly leading to his conversion to a less uptight version of his earlier self, but instead, it mostly continued to focus on the team, their interactions with each other and the rather comic way they handled their calls. A relationship has been developing with Ross and Vidya – at one point (as they continue haranguing their marks for money), he takes her on an imaginary trip to the observation point on the Sears tower – but he starts becoming more distant from her and even (in a shocking bit of dialogue) mocks her for her dark skin. Each of the three gets caught up in their own dramas: Vidya and Ross over the phone, Giri with his own lust for consumer products.

The big conflict turns out to be Ross against Avinash, but for reasons I never guessed and with an outcome that was pretty hair raising – one of those really intense moments of theater when you have no idea what is going to happen next, but have become so caught up in the characters that it really matters to you. I’ll skip comment, though, so as not to ruin the surprise.

Overall, I thought this play still needed a bit of massaging. There was too much fussiness with changing the seats around from one position to another for the many scenes (nearly all of them) that took place in the Illinois room, and at one point I felt like there were too many scenes period, that they were just filling time rather than moving the story along. I enjoyed the depiction of what life might be like on the other side of the phone lines – and the play neatly caught many elements of modern Indian culture – and expect it will improve as the cast settles in, but, still, it’s a slight work – not that I didn’t feel like I got my fifteen quid out of it. And I liked seeing a play that really captured an element of modern society. So: enjoyable, but not life changing, and worth the cost of the tickets.

(This review is for a preview performance that took place on Wednesday, February 17th, 2010. Disconnect continues through March 20th, 2010.)

Review – Megan Mullally – Vaudeville Theatre

February 16, 2010

Was it really less than six months ago that I saw Alan Cumming on the stage of the Vaudeville with his one man show? I had a lot of cause to remember it tonight as I watched Megan Mullally on the very same stage. Hey, for 15 quid in the second row, I was utterly blown away … there was no reason to think that fourth row and 35 quid wouldn’t give me the same experience. The other tickets were just a steal.

Tonight, however, I left with the feeling that perhaps I was the one who’d been stolen from. Ms Mullally said she’d left Karen behind, but just who had she taken with her? I expect a one person show like this to really captivate me – to reach out and make me feel that we’re all really best friends, no matter how insincere this sentiment is. I mean, shit, Alan made me think, “My God, if only we could sit around smoking and drinking after the show, I’m sure it would be totally fantastic, the man is SO funny and has had SUCH an interesting life and we could just talk all night long.” Did M not have these stories? She only told us one in the first act, about touring around Prague with a dire tour guide named Olga.

Otherwise, really, all we got were songs, songs songs songs, songs by PJ Harvey and The Decembrists and Bryan Adams, all performed in a serviceable but somewhat thin voice, none of them really having the compelling oomph of the originals. Actually, “The Dreadful Wind and Rain,” and old Irish ballad, was really powerful, and none of them were awful … but she just … I don’t know … “I Remember” from Evening Primrose was nice … but I just couldn’t get motivated to care about watching her sing. I mean, yeah, sure, certain degree of celebrity, but I came to be entertained, and I wasn’t. I was certainly underimpressed by watching her refer back to her music again and again. Hello, Broadway 101 – even I memorize the lyrics to songs I’m going to sing in public!

For those who want to know what they missed, here’s a list of the songs she performed in the first half:
Up a Lazy River (PJ Harvey_)
I Lost My Heart Under the Bridge
Lucy My Gal (Bryan Adams)
Dreadful Wind and Rain
Little Bird (the Weepers)
I Remember (Sondheim, from the TV show Evening Primrose)
Engine # 9 (Roger Miller)
Home Sweet Home
We’re Gonna Find Romance in the Dark
It’s Not Easy Being Green

And, well, given the option between going home and getting plenty of sleep before work tomorrow or staying and watching the rest of the show, I voted with my feet. It wasn’t actually bad; I just didn’t care.

(This review is for a performance that took place on Tuesday, February 16th, 2010. The show continues through February 21st. FYI you could also go see some flamenco at Sadler’s Wells instead, which I highly advise, or perhaps take advantage of an evening of karaoke.)

Review – Nuevo Ballet Español – 2010 Flamenco Festival, Sadler’s Wells

February 15, 2010

Today my husband and I went to see Nuevo Ballet Español’s “Cambio de Tercio” at Sadler’s Wells as part of our Valentine’s Day celebration. To be honest, I wasn’t planning on going to this show … I had two other things bought for the 2010 Flamenco festival and finances compelled me to keep it tight. However, given the rapacious pricing for dinners out in town, it seemed to me that a nice, back of house seat at Sadler’s Wells would be a lot less financially painful, and I could just make dinner at home afterwards (as it was a 4 PM matinee) and pretend like I’d planned it that way all along.

The evening opened with some good lighting marking two different areas on stage with two men in them getting dressed in what looked like Spanish cowboy clothes. The lights then flashed up to reveal the band on the edges of the stage, and four women in addition to the men (the whole troupe), who, well, of course, danced a bit.

I tend to think of Flamenco as being a dance style that is really more about solos than group work, but Cambio de Terco had lots and lots of mostly unison dancing, especially by the women. In fact, none of the women got solos – well, there was a bit where a woman in a dress covered with roses swirled around a man playing a violin, but the women came off almost strictly as background color. During the dance in which they were wearing long white dresses and whirling red and white shawls around and over themselves, they were truly amazing background color, but overall the effect was too much like a touristic tablao of the sort you might see with dinner in Madrid. The singing, however, was good, and I was quite moved by a solo with the thinner woman and the violinist – I could only understand about a third of what she was saying, but I was having a hard time holding the tears back.

The solo work was where this night had its bright moments (aside from the bit with the shawls). Angel Rojas (I think – from the picture in the program I’m not sure) did a solo in which he stood in front of the two singers and one clapper and started slowly with his heels, encouraging them to sing faster, then slower, getting that really intense jazzy improv thing going on between the musicians and himself that really electrified the stage, until he was really dancing like mad and the whole room was full of energy. Woo!
Then later Carlos Rojas did a dance (to some teeka tintal drumming and, shock!, rap) that at one point had him doing a series of turns on his knees (well on one knee), ending each rotation with a different leg in front. Impressive!

However, for the final dance, the men came on dressed as Spanish house painters (or so it seemed to me as everyone was wearing a white hat), with the women in dresses that had the fronts completely cut away to show their bras, a costuming choice I found revolting. While the colorful skirts were fun, I loathed the women’s outfits, which made their breasts jiggle ridiculously while they stamped their feet. I’ve always seen Flamenco as being such a dignified performance style for women, but it seemed Rojas and Rodriguez were perfectly content to strip that away in order to make a more amusing spectacle. And, hey, it’s not like the women were anymore than background color anyway. In the program notes, it said “Cambio de Tercio” is “a departure from the testosterone-dominated create collaborations of the past,” but I found it had a long way to go to be anything more than a showcase for themselves.

(This review is for a performance that took place on Sunday, February 14th, 2010. February 15th is the last day for this show. The 2010 Flamenco festival continues through February 27th, 2010. Don’t miss it!)

Review – God’s Garden – Linbury Studio, Royal Opera House

February 12, 2010

Tonight J and I went to the Linbury to see God’s Garden, a dance piece by Arthur Pita combining two things I was very interested to see on stage: Madeira and Fado. Fado is the music of Portugal – sort of like the French chansons, tending to be sad – and I enjoy it. Madeira is an island I’ve visited a few time, a glorious, flower-covered island owned by Portugal. I don’t know much about it’s folk culture, but I wasn’t being checked at the gate, so off we went.

The piece was described as being about the unexpected consequences of the anger of a rejected bride. I expected a big tale of revenge, perhaps a retelling of “Like Water for Chocolate” with overtones of “Blood Wedding.” Instead, what I got was a tale of a family in Madeira (patio living and lots of potted flowers) dealing with each other, including the wayward brother (Nuno Silva) who, er, ditched his bride (Valentina Golfieri) at the altar and apparently ran off to drug-filled discos. After the bride was left at the altar, we got to hear a lovely Fado song that was presumably about having your heart broken. Then the bride did a solo in which she stood on one foot and used her leg to draw big circles in the air at times and did sort of stubby anguished leaps (she was so short she couldn’t make them graceful).

After a scene in which the bride’s family negotiated with the other family for financial recompense, we turned to the Groom, running away, dancing, and getting very doped up. He finally returned home, was patched up by gram (Diana Payne-Meyers) and pregnant sis (Lorena Randi), then feted by dad (Lucas Costa) and the rest of the family (cue mimed catching and killing pig for presumed feast). This celebration involved Silva sitting on the table in a big chair and singing “Canto Fado,” which led to a lights-up moment where the cast went out and handed out wine and tried to encourage the audience to sing along (the two Portuguese beside me took them up on the singing, so I went for it, too. No luck with the wine).

Later Granny dies, performing a really impressive solo (given that she looked to be about 70 years old) in which she collapses and then gets back up and dances again, once even doing the splits. She’s buried and then semi-dances a memorable duet with Costa. The tension in this came because Costa is blind, and as he lifted and carried her (and she at one point rolled away from him, and he rolled after), there was an incredible energy of knowing that he couldn’t see us or anything, that he was no longer using his cane or being led by anyone – and it seemed that much more like he was truly bereft by his mother’s death.

Then the vengeful bride comes back, forces the runaway groom to dance with her, and apparently chokes her in her decolletage. It ends with Golfieri dancing on a table over her dead would-have-been husband while the groom’s sister stabs a flowerpot with a big knife.

Does any of that make sense? To me, it seemed like a series of moments that mostly only had a dream-like relation to one another. The guitar playing and singing were all really enjoyable, and I was shocked at what a good voice the groom had. Granny was an amazing dancer – fleet of foot and so flexible that at one point I was checking to see if she was wearing a mask. I was really impressed that they’d manage to work in not just a solo for a person who can’t see, but a duet where he had to find his partner – it was very dramatic. There were certainly some real nods to Madeiran culture – I think the folk dance they did when Groom returned was the real thing – but I could not figure out a real “why” to what was going on. Still, the singing was great, they handed out free wine, and I’ve rarely seen someone so utterly suited to being on stage without underwear as Mr. Silva. So while this was not, in my mind, a great work of dance, it was memorable and an enjoyable night out. (Note: don’t hesitate to take a seat on the end of the aisle, as this will greatly improve your chances of getting some free vino.)

(This review is for a performance that took place on Thursday, February 11th, 2010. The final performance will be on February 13th. The ROH site says it “brings to life the intensity and drama of village life through dance, text and live fado music,” which I think isn’t really true, but it was pleasant nonetheless. For another take, please see the review in the Guardian.)

Review – A Life in Three Acts – Bette Bourne and Mark Ravenhill at the Soho Theatre

February 11, 2010

A Life in Three Acts is actually a very odd show. I was there because I’d seen an offer in the Standard for £5 tickets; I knew almost nothing about Bette Bourne (“Bloolips” rang a little bell but I couldn’t contextualize it, like “Greek Active” might to a non-Seattlite). Reading the blurb intrigued me: drag queen extraordinaire and major figure in the early English gay rights movement? I knew almost nothing about that era other than what I’d seen in movies, and, well, I’ve been hanging out with drag queens since I was 15, so I was pleased to take up the offer and truck on over to Soho.

The format for this show is as follows: Mark Ravenhill and Bette Bourne sit on a stage, as if they were in Bette’s apartment, and chat, chronologically, about Bette’s life, recreating Mark’s original interviews at Bette’s home (which have been edited down to what we hear). Behind the stage, photos and occasionally movies are displayed (and at one point we even hear an old recording Mom Bourne made of herself singing “Ave Maria” while on an outing in central London). Mark and Bette mostly read from scripts; Mark did a better job of keeping it actually feeling like a fresh event (that is, he didn’t appear to be reading), while Bette, who had quite a career as a “straight” actor, did more reading but also enlivened her anecdotes with bawdy jokes and occasional songs.

So this isn’t a performance, per se, or a real interview; it’s a dramatization of one person’s life, and this means that much of its interest is going to hang on whether or not you are interested in them as a person. Well, I hadn’t come to satisfy some burning curiosity about Bette, but I was fascinated to hear about how one working class gay man got on with his life, from the experience of being queer in the 50s (no guilt, lots of sex, and now I understand a bit more about how and why Hampstead Heath figures in Pinter’s work), to creating a career as an actor, to the difference between working class and middle class activists (talking about philosophies in books versus living it), et cetera etc. And while all of that bio was certainly fun – the pictures of the Bloolips era made me really sad that I’d never seen them perform – it was the person that came through that was ultimately fascinating. Bette goes to auditions in a dress; walks around Notting Hill in lippy; and does this all even though, truly, society is still just not all that tolerant. But she says, “I’ve got to be me.” And, in a society where we are still having roles squashed on us and people just hate it when you don’t want to get in that box, whether you’re male or female – because God knows I’ve spent my life fighting to just have the space to be me – it was cheering to see someone who’d gone through the fire and out the other side and had got to that space where it wasn’t about shock or spectacle but just being yourself. And thanks for giving us that insight, Bette. Sure wish we could sit down and have a cup of tea and reminisce some day.

Note: on the night we went there was a presentation of “My life in 100 Words or Less,” which was fun to hear, but we did wind up having an interval though I’d thought this show ran straight through 90 minutes. Our total running time was around two hours.

(This review is for a performance that took place on Wednesday, February 10th, 2010. A Life in Three Acts continues at the Soho Theatre through February 27th. As a crass ending, I’d love to add on Bette’s joke about the old queen with back problems but I’ll leave it to her to share it with you.)