Posts Tagged ‘A Simple Man’

Review – Northern Ballet’s Mixed Programme (As Time Goes By, Angels in the Architecture, A Simple Man) – Sadler’s Wells

May 20, 2009

First: I noticed that Union Theatre’s new show, Sondheim’s Company, is opening today! How exciting – I’ve just booked tickets for the Sunday matinee. On to the review …

Last night I went with J and my two visiting Canadian friends to see the Northern Ballet Theater’s current mixed bill. “As Time Goes By” was billed as ballroom dancing to a live score; “Angels in the Architecture” as a celebration of Shaker culture performed to Aaron Copeland’s “Appalachian Suite;” and “A Simple Man” – well, that one stumped me, because the intro paragraph (quoting Gillian Lynne) said “the BBC asked me to make something for Lowry’s centenary.” I thought – a choreographer? A musician? A famous dancer? And then it came out that he was a painter, though reading the program I had no idea what his first name was – it seems like it was just expected that you would know. (Given that one of my friends doesn’t know who the Impressionists are, I think a little historical information, and even a painting or two in the four color program, would have been really helpful. The painter’s first name is mentioned nowhere. Northern Ballet would do better to aim for more of a worldwide audience by more expansively talking to their audience about their sources of inspiration rather than leaving me to consult Wikipedia to figure out who they were talking about.)

While I can say nice things about my ticket price (10 quid way up in the next to last row of the second balcony) and the program price (2 quid, fabulous!), unfortunately I’ve got not much nice to say about the show. “As Time Goes By” was set in a glamorously lit, Deco-style nightclub, and the tuxedoed and black gowned dancers suited it well. (However, I was disturbed by the choice of tan/pink shoes for the ballerinas – they looked like they were dancing barefoot.) After the opening musical piece, Peter Grant, a “21 year old northern lad” (per the program), took the stage and moved through a long set of classics, most of which were accompanied by duos dancing (though there was one set with three men). Unfortunately, I found all of the dancing fairly interchangeable, with an occasional “bad” moment (I saw a ballerina just stop cold as her partner apparently failed to be where he was supposed to be). I found myself thinking longingly of Liam Scarlett’s “Consolations and Liebestraum,” from not even a week ago, which fully exploited the dramatic possibilities of the couple and which had a different story and feeling for each of three couples despite using the same composer’s music throughout. This just didn’t hit it at all, and I found my mind wandering before it was all over. The music and singing, though, that was enjoyable – I just wish there’d been more to watch.

“Angels in the Architecture” was the best piece of the night, featuring a very nice pas de deux early on, though mostly it was big groups of women and men dancing (solo and mixed). It started with “brooms solo” on stage, with the dancers coming up to standing brooms and then doing rather a lot of dancing around and with them. After the brooms were hung up, the dancers went through a series of movements that were supposed to have some flavors of Shaker life to them, though I found it quite comic that the women kept lifting their skirts and wrapping around them in a way that could be seen as rather sexy when in fact the Shakers were a celibate cult. At the end was a long and bad bit involving Shaker chairs, which I would have much preferred to have seen left hanging on the walls on their peg rails. The chair dancing scene just seemed to get into a bizarre object worship that to me reflected how people remembered the Shakers – as people who made covetable furniture – than how the Shaker people themselves operated or what it was that they, as a culture, valued. They certainly didn’t worship their furniture. I found myself thinking of the Brady Bunch episode where Jan decides to get into modern dance and, after pouring her heart into a piece in which she dances with a scarf, is told, “Now do it again without the scarf!” This needed to be done without the chairs. Ah well.

The final piece, “A Simple Man,” had just no emotional resonance for me as I am completely unfamiliar with the work of Lowry. Moreover, the movement wasn’t very interesting. My conclusion was that they should have done less paintings, and maybe tried to make it a more interesting dance, rather than being so worshipful toward the source. I did get a huge kick out of the Nymphettes, two girls dressed all in pink so that they looked liked oversexed housewives, their (comically molded, like puppets) breasts hanging out over their pink peignoirs, little balls on their slippers and huge pink bows, prancing around on tiptoe – but otherwise it was fairly dull and we wished we’d slipped out after the interval.

(This program continues at Sadler’s Wells tonight, Wednesday, May 20th. For another take on this evening, see this review in the Times.)

Great review on Clement Crisp’s talk about the state of ballet

May 12, 2009

I had a Twitter person refer me to this wonderful report on Clement Crisp’s pre-show lecture at the National Ballet of Canada. Now, I didn’t agree with his take on Northern Ballet’s Hamlet, but it was certainly clear he’s got the decades of experience behind him. And this review makes clear that he’s also dedicated to one of my pet causes, supporting the future of ballet. It must not die, and to not die, it needs fresh blood in the forms of new choreography and new audience members. To die, it just needs to be allowed to become a museum piece.

That said, I’m helping (eep!) support the death of ballet by going to see Giselle tomorrow. It’s one of my favorite classical ballets, and I figure that it will be a nice addition to the version by the Mikhailovsky I saw last year and the version I saw performed by the Ballet Nacional de Cuba way back in ’99. (Good lord! A performance before I was blogging!) Sure, it’s a museum piece, but on the lines of the Mona Lisa when you’ve got an excellent company performing it. (Actually I’d say it’s more like Millais’ “Ophelia,” but that’s just me.)

In addition to a night with an old standard, I’m also going to see the New Works at the Linbury on Thursday, because I do, seriously, support the vitalization of this art form which I love so much. And to add to this, I’ll be popping over to Sadler’s Wells on Tuesday to see the Northern Ballet Theater’s mixed bill (Gillian Lynne’s “A Simple Man,” “Angels in the Architecture” and “As time goes by”). Supporting these performances will help ballet move forward as an art – but I’m going because I love ballet, and I love the chance to see new works, and the thought of seeing some amazing dancers performing makes me grin from ear to ear.

The rest of my month is going to mostly be classical music at the Lufthansa Festival of Baroque Music – three or four concerts (including Phantasm and Emma Kirkby) over its two weeks – and I’m really looking forward to it. I’m only going to see two plays – Exquisite Corpse at the Southwark Playhouse, and Aunt Dan and Lemon at the Royal Court. Overall, May won’t be much of a theater month, but I think it will be great!