Archive for October, 2011

Review – Thirteen (by Mike Bartlett) – National Theatre

October 27, 2011

A new play by Mike Bartlett! A new play by Mike Bartlett! I bought my ticket hoping for Cock (brilliant, intense), but was I actually going to get Earthquakes in London (shiny then tedious)? I was willing to wait four months (while the National sat earning interest on my tickets) to get the answer: what is the ultimate truth about 13?

And the answer is … well, it’s a bit more of the shiny side of Earthquakes. With 13, we have a huge dose of Stuff What Is Happening Now – it’s so clear that much of its formative period was during the summer when the riots were going on. We’ve got old ladies angry enough at banks to smash their windows, a government that is looking to Twitter to understand what “the people” are thinking, and a people who get their news off of their I-phones. And that guy with the shaggy hair and the beard at the airport (Trystan Gravelle), wasn’t he another wannabe jihadi fresh back from training? Extra historical pins are provided by the names of the “President’s aide,” Dennis (his last name was given but in my head he was already Kucinich – Nick Sidi) and the atheist scholar who is the PM’s best friend, Stephen (I heard “Frye” but saw Richard Dawkins – Danny Webb). Underneath it all is a shared nightmare that something “very bad” is going to happen – the world of terrorism keeping would be dreamers up at night. Sure, some historical specificity has been changed to make it fiction (there’s not a coalition government but just a ruling Tory PM – Ruth (Geraldine James)) – and the big political question of the day is about whether or not to invade Iran – but in some ways this play just seems like an alternate version of the reality we’re in. In fact, I posit the play is actually set right now, but the names (of people and places) have (or have not) been changed to protect the innocent (our innocence – or ignorance).

The story. Do you care about the story? The play seems to be mostly about expressing the situation we’re living in, poking a little bit at some of the underlying weirdnesses (people don’t understand what’s going on, it feels like we’re at a historical nexus but no one can really imagine what it might be like in five year’s time), dealing with some moral questions (do people want to believe, when do you have responsibility for another’s actions, how do you do a calculus of death, is liberty only for people that designate theirselves as worthy of it), and sprinkling in a little mystery (what did quasi-prophet John have to do with the Prime Minister’s son’s death? where has John been for five years?). There’s some human interaction – the part where I think Bartlett shows his strongest talent – but amidst all of this ENERGY and GREAT ACTING and POSSIBLY DODGY ACTIVITIES – which dazzled me at the time – there seems to be something missing.

The play is so thoroughly wrapped up in the now that it doesn’t get nearly close enough to the human as it ought to if it wants to be anything more than that play we saw (in 2011) that talked about all of the stuff we were talking about – in 2011. Wondering if a single murderer can be just as wrong as a governmental official “protecting and serving” as they kill is a good question to ask, but philosophy doesn’t tend to build the strongest scripts. Neither do I-pads, video streaming, or giant black cubes shooting around stage trying not very subtlely to imitate the Q’aaba. I walked out feeling very impressed with all of the now-ness but finding very little memorable had happened. This play is much better than Earthquakes, and worth seeing, but for all of its showiness I wish like hell Mike Bartlett would do another play with five or less people in it, and give me something that I’ll talk about, not just on my way back to the tube, but for years later. 13 is just not it. Better luck next time.

(This review is for a preview performance that took place on October 24th, 2011. It is running at least through January 8th, 2012.)

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Review – Some Like It Hip Hop – Zoonation at the Peacock Theater

October 25, 2011

Into the Hoods was the first full-length street dance evening I attended, and while I found it rough around the edges, it got me excited about the style … and the company. This meant that the company’s new show, Some Like it Hip Hop, had made it to the place of honor in my mental space as I put their flier on my cubicle’s tiny display space. Mental note: AWESOME SHOW COMING.

So … here’s what I expected going in. Despite the fact that the title is from the movie Some Like it Hot, I was thinking not at all about a plot involving gangsters, all-girl Jazz bands, and cross-dressing musicians; instead, I’d got my mind fixated on Shakespearean influences for this show, with As You Like It and Measure for Measure being zipped up and rejigged with the ever popular mistaken identities, twins, and a whole new element of kick-ass dance to tie it all together (per Time Out‘s interview Twelfth Night was an influence). And, well, the production shot made me think it was all taking place in a high school.

But what I didn’t expect was a story about dystopian police state in which all books are banned and women are completely cut out of civil society – not even allowed to speak in the menial jobs they are given! The framing is a blend of science fiction and fairy tale, as a mad governor (Duwane Taylor, rather like Leontes from A Winter’s Tale) has taken the sun from they sky, forcing his subjects to live in darkness. While I was imagining the frozen future of Charles Stross’ “Palimpsest,” the death of all plant life wasn’t as important as the fact that this world was now split into those on the inside of the city (who support the king and follow his rules) and those on the outside (who have their own society but live in poverty and desperation, not to mention cold). Life is so regimented that it seems no fun for the men or the women – the men are reduced to bullies who pick on the women but live in the knowledge that one screw up on the job and they’ll be on the outside with just the coats on their backs.

This regimented life is expressed well in movement: the men shuffle into an office with their personality stripped away, but suddenly break into dance (with shouts and hollering from the audience), showing us their interior life, as they clock in for the day; and, though they move in unison as they type up their reports (and the women feed their typewriters paper), they throw in little flourishes that express the fact that they are still individuals despite the Governor trying to strip away their ability to think for themselves.

But then we get to the situation of the women. Somehow, watching them stripped of dignity, existing only to “assist” the men, reduced and humliated by the simple chance of the gender they were born being defined as “inferior” (though even at the beginning we can see that one of the guys – “Sudsy Partridge” – isn’t as good as Miss Jo-Jo Jameson) – I couldn’t help but think of all of the uprisings going on in the Middle East this year. All of these people with so much potential being held back by folks only concerned with keeping themself in power – a revolution was going to have to happen. And when Jo-Jo (Lizzie Gough) and Kerri Kimbalayo (Teneisha Bonner) decided to bust back into the city (after being thrown out for getting uppity) and take the men on at their own game, you can’t help but cheer, especially when to “win the right” they have to show they can perform as well as the men. And they do, in a sizzling dance-off that saw other guys (including Sudsy) fail as the chicks showed they could totally hold their own for speed and moves – as long as they had on a suit (and hysterical fake mustaches). Now admittedly we had some plot happening here, but MAN was the dancing snazzy and fast, and how could you not see the point made that women can hold their own not just on a frozen planet but in the real world and in the arena of street dancing!

Then another plot point was spun in … The Governor has a daughter, Oprah Okeke (Natasha Gooden) who wants to reunite with her dad! First she’s on the outside of the city, then, somehow, she sneaks in an open door and gets a job at the factory, but she is not doing a good job at conforming – especially knowing that the misery her father has put on everyone else is something that’s wrong, but that fixing him is what has to be done to change it. So we have revolution bursting out at many levels, from the women, from the family, and finally from the men of the city, who are not as happy living in their same sex dorms and playing poker as The Governer might wish they were! Finally the whole thing breaks out in all out war as the various forces come together and have to fight it out in a big dance scene. You think this is going to be cheesy and over-stylized, but it actually had me on the edge of my seat – it was like watching X Wing fighters diving into the Death Star! The audience was going wild and I was cheering along with them – to see a corrupt system overthrown, to see the women get the respect they deserved, to see the various lovers finally allowed to reunite – there was a lot riding on this battle and we wanted a happy resolution. Unsurprisingly, we got it, and at the end we even got the sun hung back in the sky.

Overall Some Like It Hip Hop was a big level up for Zoonation, with not just a compelling story and characters, but great design work and … it has to be said … the fantastic addition of a bunch of original music sung by real belters. No more projected sets and sampled music, this was the full meal deal, a night of story told through acting, singing, and dance. I was astounded at what a change had happened. Congratulations to Kate Prince and crew, you’ve made a show to be remembered – and one I think I need to go back and see again.

(This review is for a performance that took place on Friday, October 24th, 2011. It continues at the Peacock Theater through November 19th. Awesome dance moment: during the final fight, a guy dances like he’s going to tear the house down all by himself, and in response, the woman he’s showing off to takes her right leg and, while standing on the left, tucks her foot behind her ear. Dodge THAT.)

Review – Office Party – Mick Perrin for Just For Laughs Live at the Pleasance Theater

October 23, 2011

DISCLAIMER: This review is for a show for which I received free tickets. And which I left before it was over.

“Hey! How’d you like to come to a free show at the Pleasance? It’s called “Office Party” and it’s an interactive experience …” On my calendar was nothing more than an aspirational space for Driving Miss Daisy, which, truth be told, is not really something the Life in the Cheap Seats budget has been able to squeeze in. So I said yes, and invited a friend to be my plus one.

The day of the show arrives and I have got a tremendous cold. I’ve gotten past the body temperature fluctuations and am now at the endless sniffling and lack of energy stage. Of course, I made it to work earlier, and in keeping with the best office tradition, I am propped up with Day Nurse. I’d said I’d go, I promised to write a review, so by gum I was going to show up – just like I had at work. After all, with many office parties, it’s not really about enjoying yourself, it’s about showing you’re willing to make an effort – right?

It was clear at the beginning that many of the performers were scattered amongst us – greeting us as we dropped off our coats, visiting when we got our name tags ( and were assigned to various departments – I got put in Marketing). The it was time to sit and have a (free) drink while we waited for other people to show up. We talked about … nothing. Plays. Work. Crap. We were getting bored.

Finally, the event started as we were split up into small groups and led off to meet the other members of our work groups. My group was shown a movie and given the task of coming up with a jingle to sell the company. I wasn’t engaged. We were given some small glasses of punch, then hustled back through the bar area to the main party room (the large stage at the Pleasance), where the rest of the the divisions slowly congregated. In this room there was a cash bar, a large danceflor, a DJ booth, a curtained stage, a raised stage across from it, and a balcony area overlooking it all.

There was some dancing. There were some group games. There was a performance in which someone (Ursula Martinez?) lip synched a song dressed half as a man and half as a woman. There were more contests. We were encouraged to dance. The head of the company spoke to us (and behaved inappropriately). We saw office politics in action. The actors intermingled and stayed in role. There was more cabaret. My husband ate a donut on stage.

Looking at my watch, I saw that after 2 hours I had got to the point where I regularly get with office parties: I was bored. I didn’t want to play games, I certainly didn’t want to dance, I didn’t feel like standing up and drinking, and I was sincerely disappointed by the deliberately bad cabaret performances. I’m sorry, but I’m a sophisticated theater goer, and this wasn’t hitting my bar. Now read this description (from the Time Out promo for Office Party):

“Get ready to be recruited as an employee of a fictitious company and where you will be witness to all the hilarious activities at this riotous annual party. Immerse yourself in the surreal world of Product Solutions Head Office and let your Head of Department take you on a wild night out involving outrageous comedy and cabaret.”

Hilarious? Surreal? Riotous? I WISH. I got an update from two people who stayed (it only went for another half an hour) but I don’t see how even in that time they could have possibly crossed the barrier to making me care. I wish like hell the stage performances had been outrageous – instead they were flat as a joke about boob jobs gone wrong. Just naked doesn’t cut it. Even naked audience members isn’t enough. In fact, the whole thing was just too much like a real office party for me – an event I typically avoid. Since the evening was organized by the co-producer of La Soirée, a production I really enjoyed, my hopes were much too high. Still, there was just nothing for me to enjoy. Two other girls who had been there were on the same platform as me on the Tube and we shared our joy at escaping. Thank goodness it was free – my one consolation in an evening poorly spent.

(This review is for a performance that took place on Tuesday, October 11th 2011. My cold continued to torture me for another week after I left. Office Party is booking until January 21st. Alternately, I see La Soiree is actually back starting from November 23rd – perhaps you should see it instead?

Review – Autumn Glory (Checkmate, Symphonic Variations, Pineapple Poll) – Birmingham Royal Ballet at Sadler’s Wells

October 21, 2011

The Birmingham Royal Ballet opened their fall visit to London with a series of ballets that were a treat of historical information – ballets by the great and the good of years gone by, that I’d mostly only ever known by images (“Ooh, look at those hats!”) or reputation (“What, you say there’s a ballet done to the music of Gilbert and Sullivan?”). I’ve seen a fair amount of Ashton (represented in this case by his “Symphonic Variations”), but I was burning with curiosity over Ninette de Valois’s “Checkmate,” which has some of the strangest costumes I’ve ever seen (excepting some of the Surrealist designed ones done for Diaghilev). And “Pineapple Poll,” well, I’d seen a version of it done by Spectrum Dance in 2004 (with choreography by Donald Byrd), but I anticipated that this one would also be a good time.

In practice, Checkmate won the prize for weird classic ballet of the year. While the movements of the various chess pieces were supposed to be stylized versions of their actual allowed movements in the game, I was not able to see this. Instead, I was caught up in drama and metaphor, as the seductive Black Queen (Victoria Marr) went from terrorizing to enticing the Red Knights (Iain Mackay and Jamie Bond), dropping their guard enough that she was able to pull Iain in for a kill. The queen’s rattling of her daggers and bum-shaking was almost insect-like; she was certainly menacing and a most unique (ballet) character as a deadly female. Unfortunately I found myself spending more time thinking about what it all “meant” rather than enjoying the movement. (It seemed to me to be warning of the rise of the forces that would lead to World War II; I assumed the gentle but weak “reds” were supposed to be England.) The aesthetic pleasures were most certainly there, but I hadn’t actually come (I promise!) to ogle the very handsome male dancers. The use of poles was fascinating, however, from grills to put dead pieces on to traps (when surrounding the checked Red King (Jonathan Payn)) to simply the linear effect they had on stage (very good with the graphics of the drop) – it was a most unique effect. However, unfortunately, I don’t feel this piece reached me either through dance or generated emotion – it seemed very much like an intellectual effort and one that hadn’t aged well.

“Symphonic Variations,” by Ashton, failed to make almost any impression on me at all. Three men in white, toga-like half-shirts (phoar!) paired three women in white with pleated, short skirts (design Sophie Fedorovitch); and while I loved Cesar Franck’s piano music (thank you Jonathan Higgins!) I was only able to think of Balanchine’s “Apollo,” which I’ve frequently groused about for being too silly and male ego-centric. However, I felt Balanchine’s choreography glowed like a sun, and Ashton’s was a pale moon beside it – not Diana so much as Phobos. Chi Cao was a strong lead and great partner to Natasha Oughtred, but … I found the choreography forgettable even if I was having a bit of a Chippendale’s experience as I sat blushing in my chair.

Next up was “Pineapple Poll,” and as the curtain rose on a cartoony set painted to look like an 1830s port town, my heart sunk a bit; it looked like I was in for 45 minutes of twee. A bevy of ladies came in and danced with young men dressed as sailors; some drama developed as the pub lackey (Tzu-Chao Chou, officially credited as “Jasper the potboy”) showed clearly he was in love with Pineapple Poll (Carol-Anne Millar), a “bumboat woman” (this appears to be a person who makes a living selling stuff to people who live on ships). But then Captain Belaye (Robert Parker) showed up, the women started swooning over him … and Birmingham Royal Ballet exploded in a festival of fantastic dancing and expressive acting that made me completely lose track of my critic’s notebook. The girls were a series of faints and flutterings, the boat’s crewmen were angry and boisterous, the simpering fiancee, Blanche (Arancha Baselga), a hoot … at the time I thought it was just a case of good choreography but in fact it was the cast that took the structure and covered the whole thing with ribbons and fun. Just like in Gilbert and Sullivan operettas, it’s not just one or two good leads that make the show, it’s everyone in the cast giving it 100% and acting like they, too, could be the full focus of someone’s attention at any given moment. Millar was amazing, a real comic genius, so expressive with her body. She owned the stage when she was on it and is now on my top list of ballerinas to arrange my show schedule around. But everyone was just so very good in this show and there’s no doubt for me it was the highlight of the night. Thanks, guys, for another marvellous evening out.

(This review is for a performance that took place on Tuesday, October 18th, 2011 at Sadler’s Wells. It was repeated on October 19th. For a five star review of the alternate cast, see Clement Crisp; Mark Monahan’s less excited review is here.)

Preview – Dunwich Horror – Ororo Productions at the London Horror Festival

October 17, 2011

While poking around looking for fun theater stuff to do this Halloween, I was very excited to discover that there was going to be a production of a play based on a story by HP Lovecraft. Ooh! Shades of Open Circle Theater’s “HP Lovecraft Theater of Horrors,” one of a regular season of Halloween time eldritch/Cthonic shows! How could we Londoners be so lucky as to have our own All Souls’ spookiness? I tracked down David Dawkins of Ororo Productions and asked him for some answers in person.
Dunwich Horror Armatige
As I knew, Lovecraft never wrote any plays, and Dawkins has adapted this story himself. (It was also done as a radio play in 1945 but this version is not beholden to it.) It was originally done as a one-man show, but now has a cast of nine. Dawkins saw this story as ideal for the stage, as it’s more about “atmosphere and use of language” rather than buckets of blood. “It’s not about an immediate physical threat. The impact comes later. People shouldn’t be scared during the show but should be uncomfortable when they walk out. ” For him, the challenges of adapting it were actually “how you keep from turning it into a talk fest.” His approach was to look at it from a more Brechtian and Commedia dell’arte perspective – to focus on the relationships and movement and to “keep the humor intact.”

Dunwich Horror WizardNow, I’m a Lovecraft fan due to an obsession with tentacled gods, but what is it that sparks Dawkins’ interest in him? “Lovecraft had an a-religious mythos. He looked at science, positing other dimensions, vast univeres, creatures millions of years old. Before him the belief was that the world was very young. But he posited a future before mankind, a reality and a life we couldn’t understand. People were not ready for it at the time.” But these days, alternate universes that exist alongside us are commonplace in science fiction – in Gaiman’s Neverwhere, in Stross’ “Laundry Series” (which are extremely indebted to Lovecraft), and of course in Mieville’s recent Kraken. Our terror is no longer damnation; it’s losing our sanity. And this is the fear that lurks beneath Lovecraft’s writing for me – a terror that we may face any day. I can’t wait to see it from the safety of a seat in the audience.

(“The Dunwich Horror” is running from October 25th to November 6th as a part of the London Horror Festival. All shows will be at 9:30 PM.)

Review – Merce Cunningham dance company final London visit (Pond Way, Second Hand, Antic Meet, Roaratorio, RainForest, BIPED) – Barbican Center

October 12, 2011

Summer, love, happened so fast … Summer love, thought it would last ….

It all started in 1996, when I saw Beach Birds at Seattle’s Meany Hall. I was amazed by the beautiful movement on stage, so much so that I’ve tried to catch his dance company whenever they were in town (and finances allowed). I loved so much being able to see works by someone who’d been a genius for so long they were just going wherever their muse took them, and doing it beautifully. It was unquestionably the strongest feeling I’ve ever had of “being in the presence of a master” in all of the dance I’ve ever seen (though at the time I was still new to modern dance). I felt lucky to have joined him so late but to still be able to go along for part of the glorious, glorious ride.

But Merce was already old when I saw this piece performed, and I knew our affair could not last. Sadly, he broke it off in 2009, leaving me a tiny bit heartbroken but knowing we’d both given it our all. Expecting it to be the last goodbye, I made it to see “Nearly Ninety” in October 2010 and left feeling like I’d just gotten a hand scribbled note (folded somewhat elaborately) – it seemed tossed off for fun and not really thought out. And it left me cold. Merce, Merce, was this really it?

Thankfully his company decided to do a proper farewell tour, which gave me an opportunity to end it all on a high note. I dithered for months over whether or not I was going to have to go to New York to get my last fix, but a London program was announced at last, and it was an embarrassment of riches: six dances, only one of which I had seen before. I had booked a flight to Venice for the first night, but convinced myself that rather than see the Bienale, what I really wanted was one last romantic weekend with the man I loved before it was really and truly over; a chance for us to laugh and surprise each other and really revel in how good it was between us. And, well, it was all just a bit expensive, but I consoled myself by remembering how much a Venice hotel room for one was going to run and convinced myself that by staying for Merce I was really saving money in the end.

The first program opened with “Pond Way” (1998), a glorious gesamtkunstwerk with a Lichtenstein backdrop that for me evoked sand dunes; the dancers dressed in flowing white tops and harem pants; and the most fantastic Brian Eno music accompanied it all. For me, the whole thing felt like watching images appear through a mirage, solidify, then fade away. I saw Bedouins, camels, palm trees, belly dancers, cranes – the mental miasma of a million Attenborough specials rising through my subconscious to provide meaning to the forms in front of me. And, of course, the music was a dream for an Eno fan like me. The whole thing was fabulous.

Next up was “Second Hand” (1970), which had the dancers costumed in colorful, crayon-like shirts (kind of American-apparel-esque). There seemed to be a central conflict between an older dancer, who to me looked like a Merce Cunningham stand in, who kept trying to get the attention of one of the young women of the dance troop. In my mind, the piece became “Captain Kirk Can’t Get a Date” and I wasn’t able to take it seriously. (The wide collars and deep neckline of the men’s shirts just made it too ’70s comical for me.)

Our final piece of opening night was “Antic Meet” (1958), which was actually MEANT to be funny. It had a very uncompromising John Cage score of fists on piano and other strange noises that brought to mind the Trockadero’s “Patterns in Space” with its very, very serious musicians popping bubble wrap. Only, instead of being grim, we had jolly dancers on stage: one carrying a chair strapped to his back, another appearing and disappearing behind doors, a third fighting for a very long time with a sweater that had four arms and no obvious place for a head. So while the whole thing would have been incredibly depressing if it had been done with no self-awareness, instead Merce for me showed a whole ‘nother side of his personality: that he could let himself be funny and that sometimes all of this freaky modern dancing is, really, just comic. I’d never seen a modern dance show where people were just able to laugh; and, I think for most of the people in the audience, it was an entirely new feeling and one that was a great relief – so many things that they’d wanted to laugh about for ages and finally they were given license to go! And, all things considered, the score was great. Really, it was an awesome evening, and it alone would have satisfied me as the end to my big love affair with Merce.

That said, the tension was high as the end drew nearer, and I’m afraid I may have had one cider too many (that is, one) before going to “Roaratorio.” I loved Cage’s score for this piece, a mix of himself reading Finnegan’s Wake (which I took to be Ulysses as I sat there, programless – Joyce’s voice is very identifiable even though I haven’t finished even one of his books), sound recording which seemed to illustrate the text, and bits of traditional Irish music all jumbled up in a very Cage way. The whole thing was completely appreciable as a concert event. That said, the action on stage – typical abstract Merce movement but with more smiling than usual and rather a lot of traditional Irish dancing leavened in (like butter in a biscuit) – didn’t do anything for me. In fact, I was having a bit of a hard time not nodding off, and my brain did actually go into full free-association mode (perhaps not inappropriately given the source material). Watching the dancers change clothes and move the chairs on stage around wasn’t providing me with enough to hang my brain on. It was only sixty minutes, but this felt like the night at the bar where I sat telling Merce’s best friend how much I was going to miss him while not getting a whole lot of sympathy.

I had some time away after this, a whole day to sit and think about the good times. And then we had our very last date together ever, for RainForest (1968) and Biped (1999). RainForest just killed me: with Andy Warhol’s forty or so big, silver, mylar pillow-shaped balloons (the “set”) barely keeping contact with the ground (and floating off into the audience AND the orchestra pit, forcing the conducter to THWAP them back out), the whole thing became a giant, Pop-art comedy dance, complete with an exploded set piece (something I’d really never seen before, a sad crumpled bit of mylar sitting on the stage like a gazelle on the Serengeti plains). The dance seemed just as much designed to act as if the pillows weren’t there as to acknowledge them by forcefully kicking them away as the performers attempted to do “the moevement” in the exact planes designated. It seemed as much an exercise in the intersection of movement and art as it was a dance, and I had to imagine Andy Warhol being very satisfied with the effect. For me, it was like me and Merce doing one of those young lovers on the beach montages, as we ran around kicking sand, splashing around, and giggling like kids, all light and laughs and joy and lots of salty, ionized air amping up the energy.

Then it was the end, with BIPED, a piece I’d seen three years ago nearly to the day. It was like being taken back to a restaurant we’d discovered together, but in a different season, so the menu had changed a bit but it was all still so tasty and flavored with the memories of us together. I remember struggling with the animations before, but (especially seen right after a matinee of Wayne McGregor’s Limen) I had new appreciation for the overall use of light, as dancers appeared and disappeared at the back of the stage, as the floor changed colors beneath them, as they seemed to dance with the animated projections of their own bodies. I could see that these drawings were quite perfectly drawn from their own bodies doing the moves that Merce had created, and I thought, look, he has gone, and I will never see these dances again, but he lived long enough to come into technologies that could really and truly help preserve his legacy, as well as living long enough to discover a million more ways he could use these advances to just push the dance forward as an artist. We held hands tightly as the dancers, teary eyed, took one bow after another to a room full of people who knew they’d never see them dancing together again. But Merce and I had always known it would have to come to an end; thankfully, we had one last weekend to make sure the last of our time together would leave memories for (and of) a lifetime.

(This reminiscence is for a series of performances that took place from October 5 through 8th, 2011. If you are feeling particularly desolate, they are continuing to tour until the end of the year and will be in Paris in the middle of December.)

Review – Triple Bill (Limen, Marguerite and Armand, Requiem) – Royal Ballet at Royal Opera House

October 9, 2011

It’s been two years since I first saw Limen, and the newness of it has worn off well enough for me to appreciate it more structurally. Saturday afternoon I was amazed by the lighting much more – the opening, with the animated, digital clock-font glowing numbers floating around on a scrim while dancers stepped into the numbers and then disappeared into the darkness just a foot or two away from the screen … the very cool white box of light that had the dancers in a negative space in the middle … the colored lights that at one point made a box border that matched the dancers’ shirts (crayon primaries) and then later sliced straight across the stage (in a recreation of the Mount Olympus scene from Xanadu – am I the only one who saw that?) … then the final scene with the great blackness at the back of the stage with little blue lights flickering around it that the dancers all eventually went to stand in front of, completely disappearing in the gloom. It all seemed a metaphor for how we have such brief moments of life and then it’s snuffed out. And yet … the one thing in this ballet that just really kills me is the Yin Yang duet Sarah Lamb and Eric Underwood perform just past the halfway point. He is pure power, she is tiny and (seemingly) fragile, and he moves her with the grace and strength that I think is one of the mind blowing things about sex, that two humans who could be destroying each other instead are so careful and vulnerable together. It’s a pas de deux that makes you hold your breath and I feel lucky I was able to see it again with the originators of the roles.

No such luck with Marguerite and Armand, but given that Fonteyn and Nureyev were performing it until the late 70s, I almost could have (if I’d been living in England thirty years ago). But it was wonderful to have it be my debut as an audience member, with Rojo and Polunin instead, letting me revel in thirty minutes of unfiltered Ashtonian sap. Now, I am not a fan of Traviata (based on the same story, Dumas’ La Dame aux Camelias), as I don’t care for heroes or heroines who are willing to let social norms dictate their actions. Yet somehow as a ballet, with so much of the irritating moral conflicts stripped away, the story moved on to a higher plan of abstracted feelings; love, longing, betrayal, duty, rejection, regret. Ashton wrote the emotions and relationships wonderfully through movement; Marguerite’s weakness captured by Armand lifting her using his legs; her heart and body broken as she shuffles offstage in toe-dragging pointe. I still wanted to hit Armand at the end for not being able to forgive Marguerite (for what I am still not sure; something about a necklace) in time to be able to enjoy what little of her life there was going to be for them to spend together; why must people dwell on the faults of those they love while they live only to suffer so much regret when they die – when a little less rigidity could have led to such a different outcome? Ah well, midway into my forties I see Armand’s pigheaddishness is just as contemporary as ever. Women may not be dying of consumption like they used to but oh, it was just a lovely little thing, this ballet was.

This brought us to the third ballet of the afternoon, Macmillan’s Requiem, something I’ve been interested in seeing because of its place in his ouvre both as a critical one-act and as a historical moment as a choreographer’s tribute to his mentor. What does a ballet constructed of pure grief look like? At the start, as the white-clad dancers paraded, hunched over, on stage, it looked a whole lot like Ashton’s Rite of Spring; there was even a body being carried aloft by the crowd. But then, as we listened to the just beautiful choral work (Fauré’s “Requiem”), I realized … we were watching pretty little angels being carried around on stage! The message was, “Don’t be sad! They’ve moved on to a better place and we’ll get to see them again.” Maybe that’s what the dancers of the Stuttgart ballet needed to hear but I found it just as candy-coated as the ribbon dance in La Fille mal Gardee. Grr. More grief! Ah well, it wasn’t badly danced, the music was very good, but my heart was not touched.

(This review is for the matinee performance of Saturday, October 8th, 2011. This triple bill continues through October 20th and like all of the Royal Ballet’s triple bills is a spectacular bargain. I highly encourage you to attend.)