Mini-review – 2010 Royal Opera House Firsts, Second Program – Linbury

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Tonight I went, once again, to the Linbury for the current installment of the Royal Opera House “Firsts” program. First up was a bizarre projection/rope acrobatics piece, with a through-line (told primarily through a narrated movie) about Frank, a clown in a circus in India. There was a lot of discussion about how the circus is received in India, and a bit about the backstage shenanigans – but it all rang kind of false, like a “This American Life” story brought to life (not helped by the rather flat and very American narration). The projections, which were a movie (at times) and ambient lights (emphasizing the movement of the rope artist) were … well, the good part was when three projected, computer-looped dogs had clowns appear behind them and their faces sort of … melt. It was something that could really only have been done with the technology. However, there was no real dramatic tension, the ropework was flat, and the final image of the clown/rope artist spinning around on top of three plastic children’s play horses didn’t move me. I’d say this wasn’t awful but it was certainly not very exciting.

Next up (after a really unnecessary intermission) was Spiltmilk “Say Dance,” the most obvious audience-pleaser of the night. Spiltmilk Dance took a variety of social dance crazes and turned them, intelligently, on their heads: so we saw “The Twist” done as if each of the three dancers was being, in turn and together, in bits and full bodied, possessed by the spirit of Chubby “St. Vitus” Checker; later we had the joy of the “Birdie” dance, the “Time Warp” and the “YMCA” done to “Eine Kleine NachtMusic.” I haven’t seen a piece so cheefully self-conscious and engaged with the vernacular dance idiom since the Buttrock Suites back in Seattle-land. Oh, the mimed “fox trot” with the pointy ears and the bouncing up and down! I enjoyed this work greatly and am most pleased with these ladies for sticking a big fat ray of sunshine right in the middle of a cold November night. Thanks so much!

Suffering by comparison (as well as proximity to so much joy) was “That Was the Time I Stopped,” a.k.a. the one with the blue spangled hotpants. Two women ran side by side across stage, tussled on the floor, balanced on each other, peeked at each other sideways, readjusted their clothing, and generally filled time in a way that I found not compelling and not too full of narrative. And then it was time for the interval – though considering I wasn’t aching with the desire to leave my seat, this certainly wasn’t the worst of pieces that’s made it into curation for this show.

Last up was “The Man Who Wasn’t There,” a semi-puppet show with an old man (the puppet) wandering around a room full of boxes, listening to the radio, which goes between the shipping weather report, sports, and … well, other things. Two men are packing up the boxes behind him, until … well, the old man appears to be transported back into the time when he worked on a ship, and the men become other sailors. The show continues with him slipping back between the past and the present (which moves from him being moved to him being in a hospital), leaving us with a sense of sadness for the joy (and terror) of life on the ocean. It wasn’t the strongest puppet show I’ve ever seen (you’ll note I’ve been to many, so the bar is high), but it was a very good addition to the evening. Overall, this selection was well chosen and I’m pleased I was able to see it – and am looking forward to the final installment on Friday!

(This review is for a performance that took place on Tueday, November 16th, 2010. This program will be repeated on Wednesday night. The third and final installment takes place on Friday and Saturday, November 19th and 20th – and at £5 a ticket, it’s not to be missed.)
Official ROH Program description

MILKWOOD RODEO

THE SUGAR BEAST CIRCUS
A performance inspired by holy men and Hollywood – an autobiographical fantasy capturing performers’ memories of life on the road with an Indian circus. The piece fuses physical theatre and unique and elegant aerial work with animation and projection to create a strange reality. Milkwood Rodeo was developed with the support of The Roundhouse and Arts Council England.

SPILTMILK SAY DANCE

SPILTMILK DANCE
Performed by the award-winning Spiltmilk Dance company who use their distinctively quirky style to put a new spin on popular social dance crazes of the 20th century. Dance phenomena such as The Twist, Disco and Ballroom are re-imagined to create a completely new dance experience.

THAT WAS THE TIME I STOPPED

AMY BELL AND VALENTINA GOLFIERI
Surreal flights of fancy, fears and hallucinations are spliced together by two enigmatic figures to create a makeshift sense of reality. This is darkly humorous dance in stop-frame.

THE MAN WHO WASN’T THERE

GENIUS SWEATSHOP
The Man Who Wasn’t There is a glimpse into the life of ‘Albert’ – a man whose memories are fragmented and who is becoming increasingly drawn into a world of senile confusion. Albert’s stories are told through a unique blend of puppetry and circus by London based company Genius Sweatshop. Genius Sweatshop has been gratefully supported by Crying Out Loud, La Breche (Normandy), The Blue Elephant Theatre, Ideas Tap and countless individuals.

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