Posts Tagged ‘2010 Bolshoi season at the Royal Opera House’

Webcowgirl’s Best of London Theater 2010

January 1, 2011

Wow, what a year it has been. After resolving to see less shows in 2010, I wound up seeing more – 143 total versus last year’s 116. What was I thinking? Actually, this year I really upped the number of dance performances I saw (helped, as ever, by Sadler’s Wells’ fine programming), and though, at the end 2009’s 116 shows I was feeling grumpy and ill-treated, 2010’s cornucopia left me feeling exhilarated about all the fun to be had in London, even when you’re on a budget. The dance helped; it also means that my numbers of “shows seen” misses many of the shows my my more prolific show-seeing friends have attended. On the other had, I have more people to see shows with now, and I thought it was a year well wasted, so that’s what counts, right? Anyway, my list is based on what I saw, and not what I should have seen or what all is out there. Of all of the shows I went to, I paid for all but three of them, so there are limits to what I could manage. (Note: I’m waiting for my free tickets to The Children’s Hour as there is no way I can afford decent seat to this show.)

Best play performed entirely in a foreign language: this was almost Shun-Kin, a truly spectacular work of theater in the pared-down (Empty Space) vein I enjoy so much. But in fact, I walked out of the door of Sadler’s Wells babbling and giddy after seeing Yoshitsune and the Thousand Cherry Trees. I mean, come on, fox spirits and slow-motion sword fights! I was so glad that whoever ponied up the money to bring this production here from Japan (the Japan Foundation?) did so; I felt extremely lucky to get to see it. Kabuki rocks!

Most magical theatrical production of the year: When I go to a show, I pray a little prayer (just like Man in Chair) that it will take me away – make me forget I’m in a theater, let me overlook plot holes or cheap sets, just make the magic happen. This is what I hope for and it really only rarely happens. Sasha Regan of the Union Theatre must take baths in the stuff, though, because her threadbare rendition of dusty old Gilbert and Sullivan staple Iolanthe won me over all of five minutes into the show. And this, mind you, was with me sat behind an iron pillar. Take that, National Theater and your wastefully overproduced Men Shall Weep. Less really is so very much more.

Best play of the year: nominees are 11 and 12, London Assurance, All My Sons, One on One Festival, Shunkin. While London Assurance had the advantage of both a top-notch cast and a hysterical script (and was so good I saw it twice, the only show I did this for all year), and would deserve the best “play” of the year, the winner for this is the Battersea Art’s Center’s One on One festival, which was a game-changer for me, a theatrical experience I’ve been talking about ever since. Thank you to all of the people who worked so hard to make this event come together; next year I will try to come as many times as possible – if it happens again.

Most “so close and yet so far” play of the year: an hour into Earthquakes in London, I thought I was seeing the most original theater likely to hit the London stage in 2010. Two hours in, my ass had gone numb, and yet we were barely past the halfway mark. At some point between these two moments I realized I’d just been locked in a room to listen to a three hour long art school lecture on climate change, complete with dancing nannies, bad science fiction, and a fanatical devotion to the pope. Well, the last one wasn’t there, but you know what I mean, and God knows the show had no concept of a sense of humor about its topic. Mike Bartlett proved himself still a most competent playwright later in the year with Contractions, but this show had a lot to answer for, not the least of which was leaving a third of the audience on their feet for way, way too long. Of course, this wouldn’t have mattered nearly enough if it hadn’t also been preachy and dull. Please save me from this kind of self-indulgent, self-righteous clap-trap in the future: and please, let’s get the outstanding production values going for a more worthy show.

Best dance of the year: nominees are Maria Pagés and Company (part of the 2010 Sadler’s Wells Flamenco Festival), the Bolshoi’s Giselle, Bolshoi’s “Russian Seasons” mixed bill (Russian Seasons, Petrushka, Paquita pas de deux, not written up as I was gorging on dance and had no free time), Pointes of View (Birmingham Royal Ballet at Sadler’s Wells, also didn’t write this show up), and the Royal Ballet’s October Mixed Rep (La Valse / Invitus Invitam / Winter Dreams / Theme and Variations). This is a hard one because I saw so much great dance this year. Natalia Osipova totally sold me on the Bolshoi and made me willing to play the pauper for the rest of August and September (summer holiday? what summer holiday?) so that I could see her dance as often as possible. Nearly every mixed bill had one weak point, but despite the loathing I felt for “Winter Dreams,” the Royal Ballet’s mixed bill for fall 2010 was so strong I wanted to get right back in line and have another ride. This was impressive given that I’d just seen about five shows by New York City Ballet and found myself yawning. The Bolshoi brought the most exciting program of dance to London that was available this year, but on this one night the Royal Ballet showed its dedication to the past and the future of dance in a way that really, really worked.

Most “I don’t get why people like this so much” play of the year: seriously, why did people think Clybourne Park was so funny? Is racism amusing? The joke passed me by, I’m afraid. Makes me think Scottsboro Boys might go over better in London than it did in the US …

Worst scheduling catastrophe award: initially I thought of this category as my way of venting about The Mikhailovsky Ballet coming to London as the same time as the Bolshoi and then Carlos Acosta squeezing in a week of performances while the Bolshoi was still here but as it turns out, this was only hard on my wallet – eventually I gave in and bought far more tickets than I planned – and proceeded to enjoy myself tremendously. So, at the end of the year, this award actually goes to the Living Structures/Old Vic for the Cart Macabre fuck up, which meant that I was booted out of a show I had tickets to … and then was never able to reschedule in part because they had to cancel all of the last week of their shows. They never said why. I never got to see it. I am resentful.

Biggest barking dog award: there were the shows I walked out of at the interval (Maurice at Above the Stag, A Rat’s Tale at Lyme Regis’ Marine Theatre, the Sellador Dracula at the Greenwich Playhouse, none of which I reviewed), the shows where I would have walked out had there been an interval (Ingredient X at Royal Court, Pieces of Vincent at the Arcola, Headlong Theatre’s Salome, Passion at the Donmar, that misbegotten Nutcracker I saw at the Pentameters Theater), but I guess for true disappointment, you have to be willing to come back – or be kept from leaving – all the while desperately hoping you will get back the value of your ticket. Thus, the nominees are: Paradise Found, Carlos Acosta’s Premieres, and Punchdrunk’s The Duchess of Malfi. Net hit? £140 for three tickets. Net joy? Zero, other than the pleasure of trashing them here.

Biggest loser? While there were many worthy contestants, the most shocking failure of these three was doubtlessly Paradise Found. With a cast of such high quality and so many worthies involved with the show, you really just couldn’t have seen this one coming – especially if you saw it early in the run. Seriously, THANK the bloggers that give you a chance to steer away from icebergs like this – if we weren’t sounding an early warning system, you, too, might have been dunked for a fat wad of cash AND a bad night out. As it was, we headed off a Broadway production and probably saved the investors rather a lot of money. The rest of the people, their careers won’t be too stained by this disaster.

This leaves me wondering where this blog should go in 2011 – should I make more of an effort to review the dance I see? Should I do more essays? One way or another, I’ve discovered there are limits to how much writing I can do – limits caused by having a day job *sigh*. Ah well, it keeps me in tickets at least, and that’s what counts.

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Review – Serenade and Giselle – Bolshoi Ballet at Royal Opera House

July 27, 2010

Last night I busted the piggy bank and went for a last-minute return ticket (in the stalls!) to see the Bolshoi Ballet perform Giselle at the Royal Opera House. I hadn’t planned on seeing Giselle: Bolshoi ticket prices have been just too high (three times my normal amphitheatre prices) and I prefer to see new and interesting programming rather than the same old warhorses. But then, well, first Zakharova was going to be performing, then she dropped out but Osipova jumped into her place – and suddenly I had the possibility of seeing (or missing) a truly outstanding Giselle – well, my resistance dissolved with that dangling carrot and off I trotted like the ballet groupie I am.

However, my unexpected treat for the evening was the triumphant version of “Serenade” presented as an amuse-bouche to our main course. The orchestra’s opening bars made the hair stand up on the back of my neck – it sounded so gorgeously modern and lush and sad. And the curtain rose, and there stood a flock of gorgeous ballerinas clad in white, glowing against a blue backdrop. The piece started, and it was just the simplest of gestures, gentle transitions into standard ballet positions – but all so much more. This piece is Balanchine at his greatest – paring ballet back to pure, simple movement that all comes together into so much more, in no way lacking in emotional content because of the lack of story. I compared it to the “Apollo” I’ve seen revived so many times and can’t believe how much more depth this has – one man and several women come together but the (male) ego has gone, and instead we have gorgeous lines of arms and legs, and the heartbreaking reach of Ekaterina Krysanova for a man who, with another ballerina draped over him, seems doomed to never be able to meet her grasp and support her as she needs. Krysanova was brilliant throughout this – pliable, weightless, fully present – and as she was carried off at the end with her back arcing seemingly impossibly far back, I felt that she was being borne away to her death – while she, as a dancer, appears to be headed to greater heights. This performance will be the benchmark against which I shall judge all future “Serenades” (and many future Balanchine performances, no doubt).

Then it was on to Giselle. This was described as a “Russian staging,” and I’m not entirely sure what that means – less mime, certainly (which is good as Giselle can leave me a bit lost), but different dances in act one. A truly new bit was the dance of the engaged “peasant couple” (Anastasia Stashkevich and Viacheslav Lopatin) – dramatically creating a model against which Giselle’s disappointment with Albrecht’s duplicity can be measured. I also seemed to recall the royalty (Bathilde and her father, and, I think in some productions, Albrecht’s mother) sitting down to watch the various dances leading toward the end of act one – but other than the peasant pas de deux above and some sousing around with a keg of beer and tambourines, there was little in the way of group dancing in this production. Bonus tacky points for Bathilde’s necklace, which doubtlessly left a Christmas tree naked, and for the courtiers’ stuffed “falcons,” which I loved but were as fake as the dancing mice in the Nutcracker.

But what this was really about was Giselle. And Natalia Osipova, wow. I have never seen such perfection in the creation of character in ballet. Aside from her amazingly expressive face, which was so much more than the cartoon of acting most ballerinas pull on stage, she had the body movements down to unconscious perfection – a little head lean against Albrecht said so much – and her dance steps really illustrated the character – the way she just barely moved her feet when she was struggling created more of an impression of illness than any “fist clenched to heart” I’d seen before. This subtlety is to me what made this a great performance. I loved her brilliant whirl onto stage as a freshly risen ghost in Act 2 – her newfound strength but lack of control seemingly perfect for Wili-Giselle but an interpretation I don’t seem to have seen before. I was also blown away by her great death scene – it was as if I could see her heart exploding just before Albrecht caught her in his arms, and she was gorgeously, hopelessly dead when she landed. But these moments were merely capital letters in a long essay of an ideal performance – it was the whole of it, the words, the sentences, the thoughts – that made it all come together in a way that’s convinced me that I must, now and forever, attempt to see Ms Osipova in any story ballet she ever deigns to perform in. How lucky we were to have had her come to visit!

However, I find my enthusiasm for the rest of the show more reserved. It seemed that it just generally lacked in brilliant dancing, the kind of showcase stuff I always expect the Russians to toss in just because they can’t help but make a spectacle of themselves and their talent. I’m sure I’ve seen Myrtha look less like a tanned version the evil queen from Snow White; but Maria Allash made this character a panto villain, more like an insect than a creature with thoughts. The Wilis danced nicely but not memorably; both Albrecht and Hilarion’s “dance to the death” were lacking. This is particularly sad for Ruslan Pronin, who, as Hilarion, was utterly denied the opportunity to show his brilliance during his star turn on stage (as Roman Petukov did in the Mariinsky version). I felt Ruslan Skvortsov also missed out, as Albrecht’s last scene, dancing for his life with the Wilis, just didn’t feel nearly like he was being forced to drip every last ounce of energy out of his body (to our benefit!). So ultimately, this will not go down as the best Giselle ever, but, in fact, a lacking Giselle – except for our actual Giselle, Ms Osipova, who has given me a performance against which I think I will be judging all dancers in the future, not just performers in this role.

(This review is for a performance that took place on July 26th, 2010. The production continues today and July 27th – casting for today here and Wednesday here.)