Archive for February 25th, 2010

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.)