Posts Tagged ‘ballet’

Mini-review – Dracula (the ballet) – Mark Bruce Company at Arts Depot

November 26, 2014

I haven’t been reviewing ballet much lately, but I also haven’t been making treks to the great depths of Southern Yorkshire to go see productions of shows I’m especially interested in. Well, this isn’t entirely true: I made it to Whitby Abbey to see the charming Dracula 5696 put on, but that wasn’t the reason I was in Whitby. No, I made to to the dark wild north – of Finchley – because I was dying to see (get it?) Dracula, the ballet production by the Mark Bruce company. By the time I navigated the 15 minute walk from the Tube station (and the 1:10 tube journey from Paddingon) I was feeling dispirited. Could it possibly worth it? I mean, if this was really good, it would be at Sadler’s Wells, right?

As it turns out, this show was well worth the journey (in part because the 2:00 running time meant I got home around 11 rather than midnight as I had feared). The show was surprising to me in so many ways, from the music to the use of masks/puppets to the quite unexpected presence of the human voice is what so frequently is a mime show. The set was fairly static – a hint of a house with windows, a wrought iron gate – but in front we had tombstones, tables, beds, endlessly remaking the stage in front of us into what we needed for the scene. Our fairly constant companions for our voyage from Whitby to Transylvania and back were the three seductive Brides of Dracula, who were especially funny when they did a turn as Lucy’s maids (giving us big grins with pointy teeth in case we’d forgotten where we’d seen them before).

The production did a very nice job of creating a dark atmosphere, starting with the opening scene – Dracula taking a baby from a pack of wolves and handing it to his female minions – and carrying through to the heartbreak of the boat scene, where the sailors (and captain) one by one die on the stage. My favorite bit, though, was the hectic ride from the village to Castle Dracula, with puppet headed horse women (the brides again, I’m pretty sure) making a mad dash while the wolves surrounded and snapped at them. It was a great bit of dance theater and probably had a better sense of tension than any movie version I’ve seen of this.

And while spooky much of this was, there were also some strong moments of humor – Dracula’s soft shoe to a twenties (?) song about a bear, complete with top hat and a cane, as well as the scene where Lucy has three men propose to her in short order – to keep thing from becoming morbid or maudlin. But then you had lots of sexiness – Dracula winning over Lucy, then quite soon after breaking Mina’s spirit – mixed with intensely visceral, luscious dancing that, well, made me want to show my next. Overall, I’d say it was a very successful production, and while I’m sorry it wasn’t playing in central London, I’m very happy that so many people have had a chance to see this highly entertaining show.

(This review is for a performance that took place on Tuesday, November 25th, 2014. It closes tonight.)

Two for one tickets for American Ballet Theatre at Sadlers Wells 2011

January 26, 2011

Well, after staring down the 70 pound tickets for the last two months, Sadler’s Wells has finally done the reasonable thing and cut a deal on top-priced tickets, which are now available at two for a total of seventy quid. Reasonably enough this is only possible on the shows that haven’t sold so well, so we’re looking at Thursday February 3rd, Friday the 4th, the Saturday the 5th matinee and both performances on Sunday the 6th. This allows you to see both rep one and rep two, so … well, if you’ve been hesitating, now’s the time to dive in. Hey, you could even catch both versions of program 2 (as the Saturday matinee has the pas de deux from the Nutcracker if I’m not mistaken). Their site is broken as I write but details on which is on when can be found here.

To get this deal, call 0844 412 4300 and quote “celebrate the city” or go online and use the promo code pcdcelebrate when prompted.

£10 for Birmingham Royal Ballet’s “Sleeping Beauty” at the London Coliseum

April 1, 2010

Travelzoo brings a deal today for £10 for Birmingham Royal Ballet’s “Sleeping Beauty” at the London Coliseum: £10 for remaining Balcony seats (usual price £20-£25) for performances 20-24 April 2010, excluding the matinee on Saturday, 24 April. Book by 9 April. Full details here. (Quote “Ballet Offer” on the phone, use promotional code “pcdballet” on the Sadler’s Wells website.)

Review – Carlos Acosta and Friends 2009 – London Coliseum

July 24, 2009

This is my third time seeing Carlos Acosta’s showcase performances (once at the Coliseum and then before at Sadler’s Wells), and I have to say my expectations were high – I’d invited both my Acosta loving friend Ibi (soft sell), my husband and W to come with me. The posted program wasn’t really ringing any bells for me, but I felt sure I’d see lots of showy dancing and maybe some nods to Acosta’s past. I was also excited that this show had managed to sell out the house for five shows in a row, though the people standing behind our very-last-row seats weren’t as exciting for me – I just felt hovered over a bit. Still, it’s nice to see that much enthusiasm for dance.

Act One opened with the dancers getting out of their street clothes and into their dance costumes, as if they’d just wandered by the Coliseum for a class. The dancers then transitioned into “Three Preludes” (which I saw as a unit), with a male and female dancer (Begonia Cao and Arionel Vargas) in white doing a lot of dancing on and around a bar, feet on the bar, the woman lifted until she was en pointe on the bar, etc. It was nice but a bit subtle for my back row seats. Much better was “Ritmicas” (Ivan Tenori, 1973) in which two dancers (Veronica Corveas and Miguel Altunaga) in bright costumes went for much more salsa/Cuban flavored dance, with music, attitude, and showing off. It kind of showed both why Cubans love ballet (and why ballet works for Cuba) but also, by comparison, how much more life traditional Western choreography needs – you could feel it all the way in Row K. Sadly, the music was recorded, though much of the evening was live – yet I think live music would have really added to this particular piece.

Next up was Spartacus and at last we got what we had all paid to see. Or, maybe, we were getting what Carlos Acosta wanted to show, as I was suddenly reminded of the legendary Baroque singer who would only perform if his entrance would be the aria to Julius Cesar (I think it was), with him in full battle gear, no matter what the opera was he was supposed to be in … he had to make his entrance singing the same song and armored to the teeth. And there was Carlos, LEAPING! and SPINNING! and doing AMAZING LANDINGS ON HIS KNEES! while CARRYING A SWORD! To be honest, like Spartacus itself, the performance was just over the top – no plot, just feats of athleticism, including some over the head kicks in which Mr. Acosta’s toe appeared to go into an alternate dimension, possibly making contact with the international space station. And though it said it was Act 1 and Act 2 solos, to be honest, they pretty much looked and felt exactly the same.

The program said that playing Spartacus requires “immense strength, an infalliable technique, charisma as well as the sensitivity to portray Spartacus’ touching relationship with his faithful wife Phrygia,” but not a whit of “sensitivity” was present in the bits he performed – probably not surprising as per reviews I’ve read elsewhere, acting is not really Acosta’s forte. Ah well. But the sword bit and the whole hypermasculinity of the performance, well, it actually was verging on the comic for me. I know that when we go to see galas, we expect to see people showing off, but … it made me giggle, though silently lest the other audience members hurt me.

Then it was “Rhapsody,” a bit which I found rather forgettable other than the fact that it used the music from “Somewhere In Time.” I don’t think it was supposed to be “Somewhere in Time, the Ballet,” but, er, the emotional energy was kinda not getting me due to being so overwhelmed by Spartacus. It was like trying to taste a hit of cardamon after eating a vindaloo – my buds were burnt out.

The pas de deux from Act I of Neumeier’s Othello managed to cut through the torpor. (Sadly I did not realize that this was what was being depicted – it would have helped made sense of the dance a lot more.) The Arvo Part music was amazing, and the intimacy of the dancing was lovely – the woman in a nightgown (Florencia Chinellato) very delicate and loving and flexible and wholly open to the man; he, strong, catching and lifting and carrying her effortlessly. However, what blew me away was the passion and barely restrained sexual energy bubbling under the piece, which ended with the woman unpeeling the bit of gauze wrapped over the man’s dance belt. My God, his body – if ever a person could be unashamed of dancing naked, Amilcar Moret was he. My jaw was hanging open, and as I sat there with the binoculars glued to my eyes, my husband (whom I had stolen them from – he doubtlessly had his own opinions about the nearly transparent gown on the woman) turned to me and said, “His definition is so perfect you can see where the muscles attach to the bones.” Wow. The thing is, I wish, for that piece, I could have actually seen it in a far more intimate environment, because in the big barn of the Coliseum, the delicate beauty of it was overwhelmed. And I probably would enjoy seeing the whole ballet.

Next up in the continuing theme of half naked men parading around on stage in the guise of art was “Canto Vital,” described in the program thus: “Choreographed by former Bolshoi dancer Azari Plisetski in 1973 to show off the strength and dynamic masculinity of four dancers from the Ballet Nacional de Cuba, Canto Vital (Song of Nature) is an allegorical story of nature undergoing rebirth after conflict and resloution between three forces symbolising beast, fish, and bird.”

While “Othello” might have been the most beautiful piece of the evening, “Canto Vital” was, I think, the most memorable. It was so self-seriously masculine it flipped over into camp for me, thanks to being prepped by the strip tease in the piece before and Spartacus. All I could think of was those 50’s “male physique” magazines, in which young men lounged around naked in “brotherly love” positions while they engaged in healthy, outdoor pursuits. Admittedly, there was nothing really to complain about when it was Acosta, Steven McRae, Moret, and Arionel Vargas prancing and flipping and leaping in their speedos on stage; but I just couldn’t take it very seriously. It most certainly was an incredible piece in terms of fully showing off the talents of an all-male cast – and the caliber of performers required was very high. I could only imagine the choreographer, working at the height of the cold war, being utterly incapable of perceiving any homoerotic overtones in his work; but, child of the 80s that I am, it was painted all over this piece for me.

That said, big props for McRae for really tearing the house down on this one. While the other three men were more heavily muscled than he was, he was the one that showed grace (in his entrance leaps, in which he was fluttering his feet as if he were afraid to leap in a cold pool) and outstanding leaps, never once letting himself drop to the level of the other dancers, but always seeking to produce the best possible performance he could do in all of the sections in which he was allowed to show off his stuff – yet still dropping right into the ensemble work. When I walked out of the performance and was looking up who the red haired star was, I saw it was the same man who’d wowed me with “Les Lutins” in May. Ibi said he was much younger than the other guys (and thus more energetic and flexible), but the fact stands: he’s an awesome dancer whose star is in ascendancy (apparently he got promoted to principal in June, which he truly deserved). I’ll be keeping my eye out for him when I’m picking which night of a ballet to go to in the future.

Then it was intermission, from which we headed back in for a well varied program that never really managed to get the energy up as high as before (possibly indicating the pieces should have been shuffled a bit). I’ve completely forgotten DK60 just 24 hours later; “Summertime” made me glad I hadn’t bothered to buy tickets to Shall We Dance, as I think it’s the third time this year I’ve seen ballet dancers doing ballroom and it is just BORING boring BORING. I also hated the singer – “Summertime” isn’t opera and hearing it sung like it was grated like nails on a chalkboard.

Then it was Michel Descombey’s “Dying Swan,” starring, in an act of humility, Mr. Acosta. Um. Okay, so this is a version that has been redone for a man, and the music was somehow reworked to be much more chewy, but … it just kind of totally missed the emotional heart of the piece. It’s a tricky one, I admit, and easy to turn into a (yet again) camp nightmare (blame the Trocks) … but instead of passionate, we got dry. Frankly, I’d like to see Matthew Bourne take this one: he understands the story underneath the ballets and he would make it shine. Oh well. This one gets chalked up on the life list as “a curiosity.”

Next up was Ramon Gomes Reis’s “Over There,” happily done to the music of Purcell, “Ah Belinda” from Dido and Aeneas (“Remember me! but ah! forget my fate”). I saw it as being sort of a retelling of the Orpheus myth, with the man (Moret) attempting and yet failing to save the woman (Florencia Chinellato) from her fate. “Memoria,” which followed, was a solo for Miguel Altunaga (which he choreographed himself especially for this day), but it pretty well disappeared in the late program slump – it would have done much better earlier on when I had more energy to appreciate it, even though Altunaga really danced his pants off.

Wrapping it up was “Majismo,” choreographed for Ballet Nacional de Cuba in 1964 by Cheorge Garcia to some very cool music from Massenet’s “Le Cid.” It was a pretty thing, with men dressed like matadors and the women in stylized Spanish dress, with fans; but it didn’t have the energy and impact that an end of show piece really wanted, despite some nice solos. Frankly, I think they could have done much more. The show wrapped with the dancers taking off their costumes, putting on their warmup clothes, and heading off stage; a decent bookend but not the hurrah I would have liked.

In short: this evening provided some great context of the history of Ballet Nacional de Cuba, as well as giving us with an opportunity to see a lot of dance we would likely never or only very rarely have a chance to see – as well as highlighting current dancers from the Cuban company. It was also a real showcase for male bravura performances – nice in a world that seems to become substantially dominated by a female focused style. However, the dances should have been reshuffled a bit and maybe Acosta needs to take a step back from the freakishly butch stuff and insert just a bit more acting focused pieces, as well as rethinking the concept of “grand finale.” That said, I was grateful to see so much dance that was entirely new to me, and on the whole I felt it was a good evening, though it did tend toward being slightly naked at times.

(This review is for a performance on Thursday, July 23rd, 2009. The performance concludes with two performances on Saturday, July 25th. For alternate views, please see Allen Robertson in the Independent, Mark Monahan in the Telegraph, Clement Crisp and Sarah Frater in the Evening Standard.)

Review – Giselle – Royal Ballet at the Royal Opera House

May 15, 2009

Tonight, as an anniversary treat, my husband took me to the Royal Opera House to see Giselle. Now, going to the ballet isn’t such a treat for me as it might be for some people, since I go several times a year; but part of the reason I can go several times a year is that I usually get seats in the back of the amphitheater and also frequently skip going to see story ballets, which inevitably cost more than mixed bill programs. I don’t feel cheated doing this; I am genuinely enthusiastic about mixed bill ballets and I’m simply grateful that I can afford to buy seats at all (and certainly grateful that I’m not stuck standing in the side slips). The reason why this was a treat is because he’d splurged and got me floor (“stalls” in English parlance) seats – the very first time ever for me! And he chose to do so for a ballet I really love – Giselle is my very favorite story ballet. I am a sucker for evil fairies, that’s all there is to it.

But Giselle really is so much more than just evil fairies. It’s also a mad dance (reminding me of Lucia di Lammermoor, which has a famous mad scene but didn’t do a thing for me – not surprising as I don’t care for 19th century opera) and a “dance yourself to death” scene (rather like “The Red Shoes,” though of course it came much later). This means there are some really great opportunities for showy dancing. Add this into a story with an emotional plot that’s all capital letters and, well, you’ve got Giselle, the story of an ugly ducking (or beautiful gosling) who turns herself into a heroine by the end of the show. This is not bad for a girl who (in this version) kills herself over the first man she falls in love with.

Tonight’s show featured sexy strawberry blond Ed Watson as the rather dastardly Albrecht and Leanne Benjamin as Giselle. Watson was a great Albrecht – throughout the first act he kept his eyes on Giselle at all times and acted the consummate seducer, concerned with looking convincing in her eyes while simultaneously being completely unconcerned with her feelings or her good health (as when he shook his head to discourage her from believing her mother’s warnings about her health and the Wilis). Benjamin was, meanwhile, a great Giselle – she’s such a sillly goose, and her wide-eyed innocence is part of the fun of the first act.

The other great fun is all of the dancing that gets jammed in under typically weak balletic justification. There is a long scene in which the villagers dance a sort of harvest dance, which back in the early days would have made me go, “Now what the heck is this doing polluting up the story?” But, of course, the goal is to have some dance. I enjoyed the pas de six, especially the strong figure cut by James Hay (if I’m getting my names right – even though I could see the dancers well, I didn’t see faces for all of them in the program – a simply unforgivable oversight in my eyes. I want to learn all of them by name!). However, the woman who was getting most of the solo time seemed to just not have her balance nailed, and the stiff grin on her face to me emphasized the fact that she was actually working her buns off to get through her solos. Her partner had to hold onto her very strongly to keep her in the right place, and while I admired him for his great support, it seems that a better dancer would have had much more core strength developed than she did. I mean, you shouldn’t need a man to help you get into position en pointe.

The costumes and set were also good, rich without being too noisy. I was, however, utterly distracted by the costumes for Albrecht’s family – the men seemed to look quite Tudor with their slashed sleeves and short jackets, while the women, with their beaded headdresses, seemed to be quite a bit more medieval. In fact, I was disappointed when the well-dressed woman accompanying “the Duke of Courland” turned out to be his daughter (Genesia Rosato, looking far too old for the role) rather than his wife. It’s not how I remember the story going when I’ve seen it before, when there was a different woman for Albrecht to be engaged to, and with so many lush little swanlings on the edges of the scene, I was sure one of them would step forward to claim Albrecht’s hand as her own and spent rather a lot of time figuring out which one would do it. (Oops.)

This wasn’t the only plot point that came through differently for me – I am convinced that I’ve always seen Giselle die of heart failure. Perhaps I misread her frantic dance with Albrecht’s sword before – but I do not recall seeing her stab herself before, though this did enable her to collapse fantastically in Albrecht’s arms after her fabulous mad scene (better than Anastasya Matvienko). I also felt that Giselle’s mom was warning of Giselle’s weak heart earlier in the act (in addition to the Wilis), but perhaps I am just completely incapable of interpreting ballet mime and read the rest of the scene according to my mistakes.

Act two is even more fun, as we get to see Evil Fairies! and of course Hilarion (Ricardo Cervera)’s “dance to the death.” Part of the reason I love Giselle so much is that it’s fun to see fairies – well, Wilis, really, but with their white dresses and wings they look like fairies – being mean rather than acting noble. Sadly, Laura Morera played Myrtha, Queen of the Wilis, like I’ve seen her every time – a fixed expression on her face, her eyes very wide open, her mouth curved in a cruel smile – which makes her come off rather like a praying mantis, observing the laws of nature rather than actually being able to take pleasure in suffering. I think I’ve decided that while this is definitely Myrtha’s look, I’d like to see her act like she’s got a little more intelligence and emotion behind those flat eyes, responding more strongly when Hilarion and Albrecht plead for their lives.

A lot of the greatness of this act is the whole “white ballet” – a whole stage full of women in white skirts moving more or less in unison. In this case, the women had veils over their faces, which they kept on for rather a long time, which I felt heightened the spookiness and made the scene even more gorgeous. That said, the scene in which they forced Hiliarion to dance to his death was just fantastic. Cervera appeared to give it all, and what a great role it is, in which you have to show just what a good dancer you are – so good you could dance until you killed yourself with the effort! His leaps and spins were amazingly high, he let just enough “control” go so that he looked like he was losing it (while clearly not!) – all of the time he spent skulking and whining in the first act paid off as we finally got to see what a great dancer he was. No, the Wilis were not going to spare him, and no, Giselle wasn’t going to come back to save him, no matter how much he loved her. Per this telling, he really dies when the Wilis chase him into the lake, but I prefer to believe his dancing really killed him. I look forward to seeing Cervera given another opportunity to strut his stuff like he did tonight.

After this it’s mostly emotional drama, with some lovely pas de deux with Giselle and Albrecht, but the height is, no matter how you look at it, Albrecht being tortured into dancing himself to death by Myrthe. “Beg, puny mortal! Nothing can save you now!” Was Watson going to let Cervera show him up? Well … he had just spent the previous hour and a half really putting himself out there, and I kind of think it’s impossible for Albrecht to really outdance Hilarion, as the big solo is really all Hilarion has to do for the entire evening. But there was Watson, all gorgeous and wonderful, a fantastic dancer who had spent most of the evening being an amazing partner, out there showing off his stuff as a soloist. And, well, he is really good. So it’s a bit hard to say who did better, and to be honest, at the time I was enjoying myself so much that I wasn’t really comparing the two.

Overall, if it isn’t clear, I just loved this show. It’s no wonder it’s sold out for its run – but still, Giselle – if you’re ever going to fork out as much for ballet tickets as you could to fly to Italy for the weekend, this is the show to do it for, and it was a great way to celebrate my anniversary. Thanks, hon!

(This review is for a performance that took place on Wednesday, May 13th, 2009. Giselle continues May 26th. Don’t be discouraged by it being sold out – it’s pretty well guaranteed that there will be returns, and tickets are sold just on the day.)

Ballet Summer 2009 – Mikhailovsky and Diaghilev program at Royal Opera House!

April 25, 2009

I finally flipped through the Royal Opera House program last night and was very pleased to see that we’ll be getting some Russian ballet this summer! The Mariinsky/Kirov is coming to the Royal Opera House from 3-15 August and presenting four different programs. However, I was disappointed at the rather unimaginative seat-fillers they’ve got on offer – Romeo and Juliet, Swan Lake, and Sleeping Beauty. I mean, GAH, could they pull any chestnuttier chestnuts out of the chestnut case? (Oh, wait, they’re not doing Nutcracker, so I guess they could have pulled one more out still.)

Now, it’s Leonid Lavrovsky’s Romeo and Juliet, and Petipa’s Sleeping Beauty, so it should be substantially different from the Royal Ballet productions people would be more likely to be familiar with. (Note that the Swan Lake is choreographed by Konstantin Sergeyev off of Petipa and Ivanov, so again a different version.) But I’m just really disappointed at the lack of really different productions, like when the Bolshoi brought Spartacus and The Pharaoh’s Daughter to the Royal Opera House five years back. They weren’t just different versions of the same old stuff (Look! A cheese sandwich with relish on it!) but just entirely different worlds of ballet to what I was used to seeing (rather like chicken mole’ after a lifetime thinking Mexican food meant tacos). And that is what I would like to see – or, better yet, some really modern choreographers, the Mariinsky doing work especially choreographed for it, a chance to see something truly new! But no, all we get is Balanchine, and it’s Balanchine war horses to boot. I mean, come on, Serenade and Rubies, not only have I seen them before, but they will have both been done in London earlier in the yeah, and even on the stage of the Royal Opera House.

Wah. On the other hand, there’s this wacky little “Tribute to Diaghilev” thing happening on June 7th, directed by Valeriy Ovsyanikov, with various Russian dancers and Royal Ballet members doing some real classics I’ve never even had a chance to see (Le Spectre de la Rose and The Dying Swan being particularly notable holes in my ballet experience), and while the tickets seem a bit painfully priced, I think I’m going to make the effort – 30 quid is more than I’ll normally spend for a ticket, but, well, you know, a few times a year I can let myself splurge. And, inevitably, it’s for ballet, and it’s in the summer, and it’s the shows that, with luck, I’ll spend the rest of my years talking about “that one time I saw that really great production of that wild XXX” and I won’t regret spending the money one little bit.

(Booking for these shows opens on April 28th, 2009. Gentlemen, start your engines!)

Review – The Nutcracker – New York City Ballet (Lincoln Center)

December 29, 2008

Two days before Christmas my husband and I went to Lincoln Center to see City Ballet’s Nutcracker, as choreographed by Balanchine himself. According to the program, Balanchine is the one who brought this ballet back into the modern story ballet repertoire and established it as the Christmas ballet of choice for all dance companies, and before he touched it, it has pretty much been unloved in forgotten*. What I was there to see, though, was not “The Nutcracker, as Envisioned by Mr. B. in the Great Revelation Which He Shared with America,” but rather yet another take on one of my favorite story ballets (most of the versions I see credit Petipa as being the originator of their choreography), one which has millions of different possible combinations of how to handle the music. I’ve seen Kent Stowell’s (at Pacific Northwest Ballet), Matthew Bourne’s, English Ballet’s, Arizona Ballet Theater’s, and a few others I can’t remember right now. I love the way all of these different choreographers and dance companies take something which I sort of think doesn’t have a lot of flexibility (the music stays the same and there’s always the Hoffman story behind it all) and makes completely different ballets – in my mind, at least.

City Ballet’s Nutcracker is most notable, in my mind, for the fact that rather than having Clara turn into an adult before she goes into the fantasy world (where the various Suite dances take place), a child is present throughout in the role – which limits the dancing she can do, as you’ll never get anywhere near the same quality of dancing from an 8 or 10 year old as a 24 year old! (She’s also called “Marie” instead of Clara – how did that happen? – and was performed by Maria Gorokhov.) This also limits the emotional intensity of the role – it’s not about her coming into adulthood, it’s dancing about an 8 year and her toys and fantasies. This is not intrinsically interesting and, I think, diminishes the overall potential of the ballet substantially.

That said, there are things to enjoy about the first act, primarily the costumes and the charm of the young dancers (and some fun scenery as a scrim is used to hide the living room, the first time I’ve ever seen this done – the children stand in front of a door and peer in the keyhole, and the lights go on behind the scrim so we can see what they are looking at). This half of the Nutcracker follows a more or less normal “plot,” with boys and girls (and adults) showing up for a party at Marie’s parent’s house, Marie being given a Nutcracker, and the inevitable fight between the boys with their war toys and Marie (and the girls) which results in the Nutcracker being injured, a “growing Christmas tree” and rat/mice versus Nutcracker battle.

City Ballet’s also has a dance for other toys that Drosselmeier brings with him, in this case a toy soldier (Austin Laurent) and a “Harlequin and Columbine” pair (Erica Pereira and Brittany Pollack). There is also a new character, the nephew of Drosselmeier (played by Joshua Shutkind), who is kind to and solicitous of Marie (and later becomes the spirit animating the Nutcracker when we move on to the dream sequence). Marie falls asleep on a couch and the story transitions into the dream sequence, of which the most notable thing was the multi-headed rat king. Once the Nutcracker has defeated him, his crown is given to Marie, and the set is swept away to a snowy wonderland (no idea why) where Marie and the Nutcracker appear to be royalty of some sort and hordes of ballerinas come out to dance as snowflakes while white bits fall from the ceiling. This last bit was pure theatrical magic, although I was a bit worried that the ballerinas were going to slip on the “snow.”

The second half follows the conceit that the ballet is taking place in the “Land of Sweets,” but all of the traditional names for the solos have been changed. The Arabian (or Peacock in Stowell’s version) dance is now “Coffee,” the Chinese dance is “Tea,” the Russian dance is Candy Canes – where did this come from? I was put off my the peculiar choices here. On the other hand, the freaky woman with the giant skirt I hadn’t seen since Ballet Arizona made an appearance, and I got a huge laugh watching the little kids come out from under her skirts and dance on stage. Thanks to Justin Peck for being this ballet’s panto dame (Mother Ginger, to be accurate) – I really enjoyed his clowning and hamming. We also got a nice Waltz of the Flowers, with the flowers in lovely tiered full skirts in increasing intensity of pink that poofed up gorgeously as they swirled around. Aaah!

Unfortunately, I was rather checked out for Teresa Reichlen and Charles Askegard’s performance in the final duet of “The Sugarplum Fairy and her Cavalier.” But I don’t think it was just me worrying about the bills piling up during this trip; it was the rather uninspired choreography in all of the show leading to its ultimate, well, canned duet. I just wonder what was going on for Balanchine – to me, it felt like he just wasn’t very excited about this show and didn’t want to make it a showcase for outstanding dancing – he just wanted to move the narrative along. I wonder if the music didn’t inspire him enough, or if he was in a hurry, or if there was something else going on – but when I think of the incredible things he was doing at this time and earlier, I feel like he forgot to care about the Nutcracker enough to make it a great dance piece. So, overall, while I found this an entertaining enough evening, I left disappointed. Balanchine was not only not able to make the first act any better than almost anyone else (only Bourne has excelled here), but he didn’t even make the second act brilliant like I think he had the ability to do. Ah, well – at least the music was great, and with luck, I’ll be able to see City Ballet more than once in ten years and get a better choice of shows the next time.

(This review is for a performance that took place at 6 PM on Tuesday, December 23rd, 2008.)

*Note the Wikipedia article on the Nutcracker completely blows this assertion out of the water. What is up with this obsessive worship of Balanchine? Is City Ballet incapable of accepting the fact that things have gone on in ballet during the time he was choreographing that didn’t involve him, that other influences were moving ballet forward at the same time? No wonder I came to the UK being ignorant of Ashton and Kenneth MacMillan!

Review – Three Short Works (Voluntaries, The Lesson, Infra) – The Royal Ballet

November 27, 2008

Last night was my long awaited trip to the Royal Opera House to see Wayne McGregor’s new work, “Infra.” However, it was not the only work on the program; it was the final work on the program, which was rather a compliment, as my experience has been that mixed rep ballet sandwiches are usually stacked “nice/boring ballet” “the thing that makes you feel weird” “the big winner with the crowd scene that sends you home feeling energized.” “Chroma” got the “weird” placement, with the missible “Danse a Grande Vitesse” the supposed “feel good” finale, but it seems that the Royal Ballet were feeling more confident this time that McGregor could be the anchor for a show. It was a shame in some ways, but as there was nothing in the evening I really didn’t like, I mostly just minded that I wound up getting home after 11 PM on a weeknight.

“Voluntaries” (choreographed by Glen Tetley) was something I’d seen before, but I was still happy to see it what with Marianela Nunez leading the cast. The costumes are a horrible 80s look with big open chests for the men and the women in white, but it’s cool to hear the awesome Poulenc organ music blasting across the house while the women are being thrown around. To me the piece has a really primeval feel to it, with the big, sparkly, universe/sun cirhttps://webcowgirl.wordpress.com/wp-admin/post-new.php
Webcowgirl’s Theatre Reviews › Create New Post — WordPresscle on the back of the stage and the woman looking like they are being offered up as sacrifices; but though a lot of contorting goes on, I think it’s my conclusion that this work just doesn’t thrill me. Nunez was full of energy, lithe as can be, and amazingly muscular, but … I guess I wanted her to have an opportunity to do more and be carried around less.

“The Lesson” (choreography by Flemming Flindt) was a ballet I’ve actually been very interested in seeing since I first heard about it. What a story – wicked ballet master manipulates and kills student! My uncle said it seemed like an upscale Sweeney Todd, though it wasn’t quite – it was more of an Expressionistic piece, a comic Grand Guignol ballet, with a movie-like set of greens and blues and greys and yellows. Johan Kobborg did a great job of being a psychotic teacher – it’s actually one of the best “acting” roles I’ve seen for a man in a ballet in a dog’s age. Roberta Marquez was an adorable pupil, light on her feet, expressive, and impressive in her ability to dance while someone was holding on to her ankles (is this actually something they do in dance school?). Kristen McNally was fun to watch as The Pianist, a sort of assistant to the teacher, like Mrs. Lovett in Sweeney, but with huge, exaggerated actions. I was afraid I’d be terrified and shocked by the ending, but it was all over really fast and just came off as a bit of black humor, to my relief.

Well, then, on to the main event (after another thirty minute interval – what in the world are they thinking!), we finally got on to Infra, the star of my evening. Sadly, I can’t go on about it at length right now, as it’s late and I’m too exhausted to talk much. To me, the ballet seemed to be a lot about how people live and interact with each other, the kind of connections we make, the way you can be surrounded by so many people and actually be completely lonely. The movement didn’t have the shock to me of “Chroma,” which is probably in part because I’ve become more familiar with the vocabulary of movement MacGregor uses, but it also didn’t feel as sharp edged – but it was a more introspective piece overall.

The soundscape, by Chris Eckers, was very … well – it’s really hard to describe. There were violins playing at times, and at other times there were scratchy noises, and al the time this was going on, overhead there was a LED art thing by Julian Opie of people walking, walking, walking by, which I stopped paying attention to, though it kept going. And I got lost in the noise, and the movement, and the truly amazing lighting (Lucy Carter), and the dancers caressed and fought with one another, and they touched and brushed and manhandled each other, and Melissa Hamilton was tiny and so flexible and strong that at one point as Eric Underwood was folding her inside out, the people behind me gasped in amazement. And then all of these people came walking, walking, walking out of the wings, walking in an endless stream, mirroring the images that had been showing above them forever, while one woman fell apart in the middle of the stage, broken and ignored by the crowd … and then she disappeared into them, and “the great river ran on.” It was an awesome moment.

And, well, I guess I wish I could watch it again. I really liked it a lot.

  • (This review is for a performance that took place on Wednesday, November 26th. This was the last performance of this set of dances.)

  • Great deal on Wayne Macgregor’s Infra at the Royal Opera House

    November 24, 2008

    The unheard of has happened: LastMinute.com has a deal on tickets to the Royal ballet (£30 tickets for £17 LATER: THESE HAVE SOLD OUT, NOW IT’S £38 FOR ORCHESTRA SEATS). In this case, it is the short works featuring new Wayne Macgregor ballet (Infra). Since I was sick last week, that means I’ll get to go after all!

    Review – Royal Ballet of Flanders – William Forsythe’s “Impressing the Czar” – Sadler’s Wells

    November 7, 2008

    Last night J and I headed up to Sadler’s Wells to see the Royal Ballet of Flanders perform William Forsythe’s Impressing the Czar. The previews I’d seen beforehand were utterly bizarre, with a stage full of English schoolgirls gone Lord of the Flies and lots of funky costumes – very different from the rather pure dance I associated with “In the Middle, Somewhat Elevated,” the middle section of this ballet, which I’ve frequently seen performed as a standalone piece. Apparently the whole thing is some kind of late eighties relic that had gone off of the performance map until RBF revived it for the Edinburgh Fringe Fest last year, where – per the program notes – it received a most enthusiastic welcome.

    Well. Let me do my best to describe the show (after briefly mentioning that it started half an hour late). There are four scenes and two intermissions, the final section having two scenes. The first scene has the stage split in two, with the left side mostly consisting of dancers in a lot of eighties metallic ballgowns seemingly doing condensed bits from older ballets (the miming was especially making me laugh, as it’s almost always the worst part of any ballet) mixed in with random Western culture references (i.e. I think the woman wearing a bird cage on her head was supposed to be Papageno; no idea who the guy was carrying the golden bird). On the right there’s not much action, but there is a woman in a school girl’s uniform watching TV. After a while you hear her voice as if she’s talking to someone on a walkie talkie; she’s some sort of interloper sneaking into the ballet, apparently in search of Mr. Peanut (“PNut” per the program). She winds up making a quite funny speech with modern political references in it (“Yes, we can!” and something about Palin being sent back to Alaska on her bridge to nowhere – priceless!), and eventually sort of dancing with the other people – at one point doing something very odd with golden arrows. The ballet is described as “narrativeless,” and that’s pretty appropriate for this part – it seemed to be all spectacle and no story, even though it had words. It was quite bizarre but there was lots of interesting movement and I was kind of caught up in just watching what was going on in front of me. Boring it was not!

    The center bit was “In the Middle, Somewhat Elevated,” which is fairly well a classic of modern dance and which I won’t spend too much time discussing here. RBF seemed fairly on top of the choreography, better than the limpid Mariinsky ballet, but not nearly as energetic or sharp as Pacific Northwest Ballet. The only time it was brilliant was in the final duet, in which a Japanese woman (as I recall from the program) was lifted, dropped, spun, flipped, and otherwise manipulated by her handsome partner. Their moves were so sharp they could have cut glass; they electrified the stage. My eyeballs dried out because I was trying not to blink so I didn’t lose a single motion. We cheered enthusiastically at the end, and they had several curtain calls – what a performance!

    The final section had two acts, an auction and a, er circle dance. The auction, which made no sense to me, had the woman of the first act asking the audience for bids on the golden-clad, bizarrely costumed dancers, all while having brief chats with “Mr PNut,” who was a head in a box on the tv set in front of her. (Got it?) The final act had Mr. PNut laying on the stage while the entire company of dancers, all wearing schoolgirl uniforms and bobbed wigs, circled and whirled around him. It got just too, too silly – three of the dancers (male) split off into a girl group trio and sang, while three other dancers (also male) started busting some 80s era B-Girl moves. It was just freakish, a veritable circus sideshow, and also exhilirating and fun. Overall, I think this was a good evening, although the ballet itself seems dated.

    (This review was for a performance that took place on Thursday November 6th, 2008. There are further performances on November 7th and 8th.)