Posts Tagged ‘Alastair Marriott’

Mini-review – Swan Lake – Natalia Osipova at Royal Ballet

March 21, 2015

I really enjoy Swan Lake, so I make an effort to “collect” productions, noting the differences in them rather like one might do wine tastings (“Oh, this has been oaked! Oh, they collapsed the last two acts!”). It came to me as a bit of a surprise to realize that, after eight years in London, I hadn’t actually seen Swan Lake: on the other hand, given the price of the tickets – it looks like it’s been a recurring financial decision to pass as amphitheater seats alone were running 50 quid. But I was able to find a slightly restricted view seat in the stalls circle for around 55, which is a price I’m more than happy to pay to see Natalia Osipova dancing: I feel morally obligated to see her as many times as possible (or at least once per ballet) now that she’s performing regularly at the Royal Ballet. These brilliant dancers don’t stay at the peak of their career forever anymore than a cherry tree stays covered in pink blossoms all year round.

Sadly for me the Siegfried chosen for this production is Matthew Golding, who singularly impressed me with his complete inability to act during the production of Onegin I went to last month. He a strong dancer but in a story ballet you want someone to pull you in, to get the emotional commitment to the story, and not just see perfect jump (check) perfect landing (check) awesome lift (check) all done with the kind of facial expressions last seen on Luke Skywalker (slightly angry – check – determined to succeed – check). On the other hand, you can absolutely believe his Prince Siegfried is too stupid to tell the difference between Odette and Odile, so that’s one hurdle crossed.

The Royal Ballet’s production (mocked by a friend for being dusty) struck me as singularly deliciously costumed, with the first act done in a mixture of well researched 1870s styles with perfectly interwoven Russian traditional dresses. Were both worn at court at that time? Who knows, but the effect was grand, the colors as varied as leaves in the forest and I couldn’t gawp as much as I wanted to. Instead of the bizarre jester role I’ve seen in some Russian productions, Royal Ballet had some comic relief provided by “the tutor” (Alastair Marriott), who gets in a dance with some girls of about 10 or 12 (Manon Forssell Pyk, Emily-Rose Holland) in which they basically attempt to duck away from him. They were for me the highlight of this act as I rarely get the chance to see young talent on stage – future ballerinas of the Royal, represent! And while the pas de trois was well done, I was bored by the waltzing and generally ready to just move through this scene and on to the lake (oddly I could see a swan boat at the back of the stage from where I was sitting … deliberate? accident?).

Then we had act two, with all of the young men of the palace going into the forest a-hunting and a most peculiarly unfrightening Von Rothbart. However, there was terror aplenty to come as the swans finally came on stage and I realized: they had six young girls playing cygnets. With their whitened faces and blond(-ish) hair, they were like the terror twins of The Shining, only multiplied by three. They didn’t have a lot of dancing to do (and were mostly kept in the back), but they made everything seem more supernatural and just damned creepy – almost as creepy as Golding’s peculiarly immobile face. This is the emotional heart of the ballet and the make-or-break time for me as an audience member, and although Osipova danced well and her fluttering fingers as she slowly folded herself down on stage (with her front body and arms extending to her toes) tried to break my heart, it was impossible for me to buy any emotional connection between this Odette and Siegfried. The swan spell was broken and I felt grateful I hadn’t forked over the hundred quid plus for a proper stalls seat.

The first interval ended and I piled back into my seat, eager to see how the big palace scene was handled and, of course, Osipova being outrageous and outgoing and out there as Odette. I loved the costumes for this scene – it was all done as a masquerade and had a real feel of Masque of the Red Death about it, a feeling enhanced by Von Rothbart appearing with two children wearing death’s masks. He sat there petting him as if they were his evil monkey minions and he a latter day Elpheba. The upper edges of the ballroom all had giant mirrors on them – echoing the giant mirror at the back of the stage that Odette would appear in (or so I assumed: my blocked view cut this right off). Then we had the suite of dances that makes up the pre-choice of bride extravaganza in this act. The various Russian dances and the Spanish dance were adequate, but I was charmed by the Neapolitan dance, which featured flying tambourines, clever arms-like-ribbon catches, and stolen kisses – I think it’s the best version of this I’ve ever seen. It’s all a build up to the series of solo dances by Odile and Siegfried, which, well, were fine but just lacked emotional intensity for me. My heart was checked out and I could not connect. That said, I love it when Siegfried’s mistake was revealed to him and Odile was essentially snatched off stage in a ball of fiery smoke, practically as if she was being dragged back into the depths of hell. It all worked well with the extremely dark tone of this scene and I enjoyed it.

However, I was pretty much ready to go home at this point, but came back anyway hoping for a bit more niceness in the act four dancing. What I got was some black skirted swans … a nice chance to break up the rhythm of the costuming … and the most unconvincing evil Rothbart scene ever. He seemed utterly powerless, less of an evil sorcerer than the Wizard of Oz. Just to mock me further, whatever actually happened to Odette and Siegfried was utterly hidden. They disappeared from my sightlines, then reappeared on a swan-shaped boat. Did she plunge of a cliff and he dive after her? Death seemed unlikely given that they’d already beaten Von Rothbart (could have done it with a feather duster, really, he was so wimpy), so I have no idea what actually was supposed to have happened in the ending. All I wanted to do was get home, and I dashed out the door. Natalia would never know.

(This review is for the performance that was filmed for broadcast in the Royal Opera House live cinema season on Tuesday March 17th 2015 and I’m pleased to say that from where I sat the cameras were not a distraction. I just discovered that the Neapolitan dance was choreographed by Ashton. How wonderful! It did really have a La Fille Mal Gardee feeling about it. Note: this is the final use of this production, per this article by Judith Mackrell: if you’d like to see a proper critic’s response to the production, it’s worth a read.)

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Review – Mixed Bill (Les Sylphides, Sensorium, The Firebird) – Royal Ballet at the Royal Opera House

May 5, 2009

Last night I hustled off of a southbound train and dashed to the ROH for a triple bill that included the debut of a new work. I love seeing new stuff; it’s the dance equivalent of a new life being brought into the world. The program itself was the typical mix of “don’t scare ’em off” stuff that usually comes with a new piece, in this case Les Sylphides (one of the all time classic, old school white ballets) and The Firebird (which I love and had seen for a second time this fall at Sadler’s Wells), with the new piece as the filling to this sandwich. Fortunately with such solid “bread” I was easily able to convince two more people to come with, so it was C, J, W and myself filling our upper balcony seats.

When I’d booked the tickets, the title of the new work wasn’t known, but with the cast list clenched in my hands, I saw that I was to see “Sensorium,” by Alastair Marriott, a choreographer I hadn’t heard of before. (Apparently he used to be an ROH dancer.) The music was to be by Debussy, and tonight was the premiere. What luck! But first we had Les Sylphides, a dance I had never seen before – well, I think: I might have seen the Trockaderos performing it over fifteen years ago! The music was extremely familiar, but I guess it being Chopin means it’s not exactly obscure. Unfortunately the vestigal memories of the Trocaderos made it a bit hard to get comfortable with the ballet’s extremely traditional aesthetic, which was seeming at times a bit too precious and dying to have a man on toe shoes stomping through it. Still, it was lovely to watch and gorgeous to listen to, but a review can pretty much only say, “It was Les Sylphides done well” – I don’t feel like there’s any more to add to it than that. It’s a big pack of girls in fluffy white skirts and little wings posing and dancing – though watching one dancer doing a move that required her to step on her foot, then somehow spring backwards onto her toe, then down again, then up, moving slowly backwards on the stage, made me think that ballerinas are all just incredibly brave to be able to do something that looked so incredibly painful with an expression on her face that was all beauty and grace. Unfortunately I can’t credit the dancer, but the Valse was danced by Laura Morera, the woman’s Mazurka was performed by Lauren Cuthbertson, and the Prelude was Yuhui Choe – any clues to the proper movement would be welcome.

This confusion reminds me: I really wish I could afford floor seats. In Seattle, I knew the Pacific Northwest Ballet dancers by name all the way to the corps, but here, I don’t even recognize most of the principals after two years. It’s depressing. Maybe remembering to bring my binoculars more will help.

Next was Sensorium. The curtain came up on a stage with a big beige metal swirl backdrop and a bunch of circular spotlights (which at different times would get larger and then smaller) on a cast of aqua and cream clad dancers. It was … not very exciting, and difficult for me to describe it. There was some interesting partnering going on, and while at the beginning I thought I saw traces of William Forsythe, his raw energy wasn’t present. Instead, a man would place a dancer, whom he’d held over his shoulder with her head below her hips then rotated over his body, so that her feet very carefully hit a spot under his bent legs. There was a lot of this very geometrical movement of dancers, but it didn’t seem to have real fire. The corps were fun to watch – I noted that their spins (of many sorts) actually made them look airier than the fairies of the previous dance, though sometimes their movement was not smooth. Overall, my feeling is that this was not a success, and will probably be revived at most once more before being retired. That said, the Debussy music was delicious and actually formed a nice pair with the Stravinsky that followed.

Firebird … it’s hard to talk about this one much when it was so very much the same staging (Fokine’s choreography, Natalia Gontcharova designs) I saw the Birmingham Royal Ballet perform twice in the last two years, though the set looked quite a bit cheaper (especially the apple tree). Mara Galeazzi was a strong and lovely Firebird, Thiago Soares a fairly appropriate Tsavevich with rather not much dancing to do other than partnering Ms. Galeazzi. But there was a panic and otherworldliness missing from her performance that I’d come to love with BRB. Also, the apple-tossing scene with enchanted princesses wasn’t as tight as it should have been – I supposed most ballerinas don’t spend a lot of time playing catch, but when the balls soar perfectly in time to the music it’s a magical experience. While the costumes overall were in keeping with the original design (I would guess), with the strange African and Hopi flavors in the various monsters of the middle section (in which the Tsar fights for his life with the Immortal Kostchei), the final scene just fell completely flat.. It’s a kind of a pageant, in which Ivan Tsarevich and The Beautiful Tsarevna are crowned and receive honors from their subjects (for freeing them from enchantment, I assume) – but, whereas for Birmingham Royal Ballet, this scene had so much gold and pizazz that it looked like a Gustav Klimt painting come to life, the Royal Ballet’s production looked instead like it were modeled after a deck of playing cards that didn’t come to life at all. It was a bit of a letdown that this performance, which could end on such a high note, instead squeaked out like a balloon losing its helium.

Overall, this evening was pleasant enough, but failed to catch fire. Still, it reminded me that I need to see more ballet, and that I’m lucky to have such a great ballet company in town and funded well enough to do original productions several times a year. If I suddenly became rich, you know this is how I’d be leaving my name on the world – adding to the permanent supply of beauty with another lovely ballet.

(This review is for a performance that took place on Monday, May 4th, 2009.)