Posts Tagged ‘Carlos Acosta’

Review – Guys and Dolls – Savoy Theater

January 5, 2016

The Savoy Theater has been the place to be for me in 2015: I made five visits in total, the most I went to any mainstage London house (the Southwark Playhouse actually got the most attention thanks to my three trips to Xanadu). I was enthused about going back for a chance to see Guys and Dolls, especially after seeing what you could do with it in a small space some years ago (at the Gatehouse) – just imagine it all done on a big stage! Wow! The possibility!

The set, though, didn’t go for huge New York feel, but rather an evocative but not detailed look: most of what happened what done behind a background of curiously shaped period billboards with (occasional) neon outlines, easily enough redone to imply Cuba when required. Otherwise, the decor was mostly a few chairs, a podium, a desk and a news stand. It wasn’t exactly cheap, but it looked like it wouldn’t have even taken up one moving truck.

But hey! The music! The story! So much to love! And somehow neither the Adele/Nathan Detroit nor the Sky Masterson/Sarah Brown relationships were really clicking. Now that’s not to say Siobhan Harrison wasn’t really enjoyable as Sarah (especially in the Cuban scenes) – but you want to feel energy crackling between then – Sky’s power as a skilled seducer and her curiosity to take a trip on the wild side sending big crackling bolts between them. And Adele and Nathan just seemed too damned old for there to ever be a chance of them having all of the kids Adele’s been making up for those letters back home to mom. I could mostly buy them as long suffering partners but on the lines of two decades and not just one. T

This left me with the dancing to catch my attention, and boy did it. The catfight scene in the Cuban bar was all sorts of fun, and both “Rocking the Boat” and “Luck Be a Lady” were genuine showstoppers. Is this what Carlos Acosta can do when his dancers take off their toe shoes? Wow. I’m sensing another Jerome Robbins here because these numbers alone pumped Guys and Dolls up so much they were worth a second trip.

Well … actually that’s not true, even if the dancing was a standout. Tickets to the Savoy are too damned expensive and I won’t stand for less than 4 or 5 stars, and dance alone can’t give that much of a lift. It was a serviceable but forgettable show, I’m sorry to say, and was already slipping from my memory as I was walking to the tube. Not what you want when the bill is yet to be paid and already know luck weren’t your lady that night.

(This review is for a preview performance that took place on December 17th 2015. It continues through March 12th and apparently Grand Circle seats are available for 25 for all shows – no surprise given how flat it was.)

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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.

Review – Carlos Acosta Premieres – Sadler’s Wells at the London Coliseum

July 28, 2010

Tonight I watched the death of Carlos Acosta as a brand name for a night of brash, exuberant dance as his “Premieres” show at the London Coliseum took me from excitement to horror and then to comedy as I gave in to the ridiculous waves of bad coming off of the stage. We started with a work that must have been choreographed by Carlos himself, because the language of movement he was using seemed incoherent, not just foreign but meaningless. His body moved from position to position, but it never “said” anything, although it seemed desperately trying to find its way into the various spotlights on stage, comically arriving just a few seconds after they came up. The black ottoman on stage that he looked at so passionately, did it represent anything other than an object for him to stare at? The video projection preceding the entire affair added nothing to it and seemed utterly divorced from what followed on stage. I was embarrassed no one had not stopped to question whether or not this piece deserved to be on a stage in front of two thousand people. If this was Acosta’s, I can only say that he is not ready to be doing choreography, and he must up the quality of his game or he is going to lose audience support in droves.

Next up was a solo piece performed by Zenaida Yanowsky, clad in a short dress and tennis shoes. It seemed a better dance, but I’d lost my mental composure because of the first piece and wound up wondering why the choreographer had her flashing her underwear at the audience so much. Normally this kind of thing doesn’t bother me, but I wasn’t able to take it seriously. Yanowsky was much more at ease in this idiom but I remained unconvinced this work was weighty enough to merit a solo performance in such a large house.

The last piece of the first act was another Carlos solo, one which I titled “For the Ladeez” (actually Russell Maliphant’s “Two”) as it was performed shirtless and seemed to be nothing more than an endless series of movements that enabled Acosta to show off his physique. This has become quite the theme in the Acosta shows, making me wonder if he really does have a tremendous ego or if he just feels obliged to give the (heavily female) audience what they paid for. Is it self parody or is it sincere? Because of this element of showing off, I was unable to really enjoy the movement, fearing I was just letting myself have a Chippendale’s moment. (I should have recognized it as Maliphant because of the box of square light Acosta stayed inside, stretching and turning and gliding through its edge – my companion liked this the best and in a better mood I would have enjoyed it more, also.)

Suddenly the first half of the show was over and I dashed to the bar to get started on discussing what we’d just seen (with my friend Ibi). Was it really that bad, or was it just me? And I must point this out to you, potential audience member: how is it that a show billed as being a mere hour and a half even needed an interval? Just what were we paying for? At the price I’d shelled out for stall seats – the only time I’ve ever treated myself at ENO, as I’ve enjoyed my previous Carlos outings so much – I felt like it was thin return on my pound. In fact, I hadn’t seen so little stage time since I saw The Dumbwaiter at Trafalgar Studios (£30 for 55 minutes).

This feeling was solidified in the second half, as we were forced to endure a long “artistic” video involving Carlos and Zenaida: walking in place, splashing and being splashed. Yes, we saw her naked and saw her boobs, but the image of Carlos naked somehow managed to preserve his modesty as neither ass nor crotch were displayed. I noticed that we finally started losing audience members during this bit; the naff levels had been exceeded for the evening. However, it all came together wonderfully as a Python-esque giant foot came down upon the stage, adding a brilliant air of surreality to the event. Ah, well, it was only going to be a half hour at the most, how bad could it be?

The second half did entirely feature all of the best bits of the evening. The highlight was the duet that I’m sure must have been the Maliphant choreography “Two” by Edward Liang (I was too discouraged to buy a program), with Middle-Eastern singing: Acosta was able to show his formidable skills at last. It seemed to me that this was the piece that had been rehearsed the most as well; it just reeked skill and care that Acosta’s solos had not. He had to work with Yanowsky and he was going to do it well, and together they created a few moments that made me wonder what the hell went wrong with this show.

There was also a solo Yanowsky performed with candles on stage that looked nice but didn’t do anything for me, and a last, bad solo in which the ottoman returned as a place for Acosta to sit and sulk, presumably unhappy about the end of his career as a ballet star. In a last moment that did not redeem the evening but which provided a pleasure I clung to desperately, the Pegasus Choir came onstage until they surrounded both Acosta and Yanowsky, filling the stage with lovely music (“O Magnum Mysterium” by Morten Lauridsen) while a bit of smoke wafted toward the ceiling. I imagined it as Acosta’s career dissipating into the sky. He’s been brilliant with the Royal Ballet but after tonight, I can’t help but thing he’s really going to have to rethink his plans if he’s wanting to keep in the game and succeed at making the switch to modern, because after tonight he’s going to have a hard time ever getting an audience to see him simply based on his name.

(This review is for a performance that took place on Wednesday, July 28th. The show continues through Saturday, August 7th and I would be happy to include the names of the pieces from someone who got a program. You can also see the Bolshoi at this time which I highly advise you to consider if you’re debating which of the two you spend your hard earned money on. Or you can see Eonnagata at Sadler’s Wells, it’s going through the 31st and is a very pleasant way to enjoy more of Maliphant’s choreography. For alternate views, see The Stage, the Independent and the Guardian.)

Review – Swan Lake – Ballet Nacional de Cuba w/Carlos Acosta, London Coliseum

March 31, 2010

Last night was the long-anticipated start of Ballet Nacional de Cuba’s run at the Coliseum, an event I’d been waiting for breathlessly since I first saw it mentioned last fall in a Sadler’s Wells program. I’d especially booked to see Carlos Acosta, who was fortunately performing on opening night. The combination was magic (of the box office sort, at least), as the giant barn of a theater was filled to the rafters with wittering ballet fans. How exciting, to see so many people all together to enjoy ballet! The atmosphere was positively electric.

I’d actually not bought the program beforehand (in part because I showed up about two minutes before curtain up), so I didn’t know if we had a 3 or 4 act (answer: 3) or which ending we were going to get (tragic, sad, or inappropriately happy), though I was told in the cast sheet that the curtain would drop at 10 PM (actual: 10:15). The lack of program left me with a few moments of confusion during act one (what was up with the people in the animal masks coming out from behind the screen – and were those ravens or swans with very thin beaks?) and an utter shock at the very end (I was not expecting the ending they chose). However, in most ways, it’s not as if there was going to be a different story up there than Swan Lake: the difference was going to be in the dancing.

And the dancing: so, so very good! One of the things I’ve come to believe about BNC (based on having seen them twice before) is that theirs is a very pure dance tradition, one I think hews closely to the earliest interpretations of these dances. Thus, in these performances for which composers especially made music to be danced to, in BNC we see dancing that hews tightly to the music, where so many of the movements enhanced the music played with them, so that it seemed the dance served the music. I noticed this first during the first act, when the leaps of Yanela Pinera, Amaya Rodriguez and Alejandro Virelles, in their pas de trois, appeared to have organically developed from the efforts of the brass section. Then, in the third act, the fouettes of Odile (Viengsay Valdes, rather adorably credited with this role as if we did not know she was also Odette) seemed, for once, not a prima ballerina foot-twirling death march, but rather a musical illustration of the martial music underneath it. Each dip of her toe matched up with a blare of horns, and, for the first time I ever, I saw this bit of choreography as something to do with Tchaikovsky and not just with showing off technique. So many times I have felt like dances are being done by people counting beats in their head; but with Ballet Nacional de Cuba, it really seems the dancers are listening to the music, and the difference is truly remarkable. It just all feels so very right, this marriage of music and movement, and I found myself getting goosebumps over and over again, seeing this best of ballet scores come to life. It was great.

I also enjoyed the differences in this version from many of the ones I have seen. All of the first act takes place in the court, and the dances seem to be done spontaneously by the staff to cheer up Prince Siegfried (Carlos Acosta). There were additions I’d never expected – a maypole, a jester (who is a big player), a strange bit in which the jester becomes a crossbow, the animal masquerade (mentioned above), and this whole “mystical experience” thing where Siegfried seems to suddenly be struck by the idea of looking for a swan. As it turns out, when he finally meets Odette, he just kind of steps onto the stage from the wings and grabs her from the waist, which is utterly anticlimactic. However, prior to this we have the most glorious dance of the swan corps ever, whom, despite their smallish numbers (twenty, when I think some company brags of having forty or so), utterly mesmerized me with their movements across the stage, forming and reforming shapes just like real birds do in the sky, only instead of just Vs and teardrop shapes we got circles and a gorgeous set of lines with offset dancers in the middle. I … I mean, I’m sure it was just standard stagecraft, but it was just … goosebumps again. Lovely.

Then we were barelling on to Act Three and Siegfried’s betrayal, and of this act I have to say RED AND BLACK ODILE! This isn’t what most people would have noticed, but it was a novel costuming decision, and I’m a bit obsessed with the color combination. And Valdes’ transformation – it made it impossible to see how Siegfried could have possibly mistaken the one for the other, she had so utterly changed her self presentation on stage. Her seduction of Siegfried seemed ever so much more cold and calculating than in other versions of this show, though, truth be told, the vision of Odette that appeared behind the scrim was so poorly lit that it almost seemed a metaphor for Siegfried’s poor memory. The ending, well, just in case you like surprises, I’ll say a bit of it was clunky and horrid and some of it was magical. Odette’s inability to resist Von Rothbart seemed like it was physically manifested, though, and Valdes did some powerful dancing in this act – but what can I say, being evil always makes a performer more interesting, and it was her Odile I loved best.

Costumes have been a bit of a problem with BNC for me before, because, though the dance preserves well over time, the costumes go stale. I enjoyed them, though – the court was very medieval a la Disney’s Cinderella meets traditional Russian clothing, and the costumes for the dancers in act three were great. Best was the third act’s black and white theme for the jester and the prince, which showed clearly the tug between Odette and Odile that was to come. Foreshadowing via costuming: nice! And the sets were simple but servicable, Gothic and eerie and easy to pack into a shipping container.

At the end of the night, we were treated to the Grande Dame herself, Alicia Alonso, coming on stage to take a bow besides the dance company that she has made, and a dancer that she helped create – Carlos Acosta. She really is a treasure and I feel lucky to have actually seen her, especially since I felt she was wholly responsible for the wonderful evening I’d just had. Who’d think in a world in which there is so much bad dance that one night could be so magical? Even though last night was sold out, there are seats available for £35 for the non-Carlos nights – and, dammit, it’s impossible for me to go back. But I really and truly wish I could. At least I’ve got their Magia de la Danza program to look forward to after Easter, and may I suggest you book for that, too, using the same £35 deal to get lovely stalls seats.

(This review is for a performance that took place on Tuesday, March 20th, 2010. Ballet Nacional de Cuba continues with Swan Lake through Sunday April 4th; their residency at the London Coliseum continues through Sunday April 11th. Don’t miss it. Really. No matter what Ismene Brown says.)

Review – MacMillan Triple Bill (Concerto, Judas Tree, Elite Syncopations) – Royal Ballet at the Royal Opera House

March 26, 2010

Kenneth MacMillan and Frederic Ashton have been the two mystery choreographers of England whose style I was in complete ignorance of before moving here nearly four years ago. Thanks to Pacific Northwest Ballet, I was well versed in the work of Balanchine (and had come to expect nothing but top-notch performances of same), as well as Jerome Robbins and a wonderful assortment of modern choreographers. But the English style was a mystery to me, and when I moved here, I was surprised to see that these two men had a veritable library of ballets created of which I had seen not one. This was a gap in my balletic knowledge.

I have to say, I have not warmed up to this choreography. I saw Manon in 2005 or so (on a trip – can’t find the date anywhere so that’s when I think it was) and found it rambling, brutal, and generally unappealing, my only positive memories being a pas de trois with some truly amazing manipulation of the lead ballerina by the two men partnering her. And Mayerling, which I saw this fall despite suspecting I wouldn’t enjoy it, was a grind. But, still, I feel that I should be able, if not to enjoy Ashton’s depressing full-length ballets, to at least be able to identify his style. Nobody gets that much work in the dance world unless they have real talent, and, in this case, I fully believe that my inability to enthuse indicated a gap in my understanding. Not liking depressing full-length dance evenings, well, that makes sense to me, but I do really want to understand MacMillan’s style. And, well, I love triple bills and the opportunity they give you to see a wide variety of dance in one evening. I’d also scored some £6 amphitheater seats, so come 7:30 last night, my thought was, bring it on!

First up was “Concerto,” a piece from 1966, was an abstract ballet, with sunny orange, yellow, and red costumes. Sadly, it didn’t make too much of an impression on me. Yuhui Choe and Steve McRae looked really good and moved together nicely, but I found Hikaru Kobayashi’s forward-propelled leaps more memorable. The problem was that with “The Judas Tree” nipping on its heels and a high-powered, brilliantly costumed suite of dances to ragtime music at the end of the night, “Concerto” was just overwhelmed.

“The Judas Tree” was billed as “controversial,” and I suppose a ballet in which a dancer is raped would probably generate a lot of talk. However, I found it more ridiculous that she was forced to stand there holding her hand over her crotch afterwards as if we hadn’t understood what had happened, and that the person who’d set her up for this (in the context of the story, “The Foreman”) was so indifferent. I would expect either sympathy or brutality but instead the choreography showed cluelessness – just not a realistic response. I found the piece just painfully belabored and overdone, lacking in subtlety and clarity. “The Woman” (Leanne Benjamin), she’s a madonna (“look, she’s got a cape on”), she’s a whore (“ooh, she’s flirting with a lot of the men”), but really, all she was with her costume on was a ballerina. She didn’t look like a hooker brought in from off the streets, and if she was supposed to be The Foreman’s girlfriend, she should have been wearing something a little bit more street (hot pants and a tube top would have been perfect). This would have really cranked up the emotional drama but as it was I was unable to connect. Carlos Acosta did some nice leaps in the beginning (when he wasn’t the center of attention), Edward Watson acted his shoes off (the man is great), and it was interesting to watch Leanne “walking” on all of the construction workers hands, but the end, with murder, a suicide, and Leanne shaken to death, just didn’t work. I think part of this was because she had already appeared to have been killed once. My vote for this ballet: incoherent. A shame really, as it seemed to have so much potential with its great set and fab male cast, but it just didn’t hit it. I could about imagine going back to watch what was happening with the rest of the crew when Leanne was swanning around in the front of the stage, but it won’t take the taste of “opportunity missed” out of my mouth. The audience did not receive this piece well and I don’t think it could solely be blamed on the darkness of its ending.

Much like a child getting a lollipop after a trip to the dentist, we, the audience, were treated to “Elite Syncopations” after the hard work of “The Judas Tree.” My reaction to it was, of course, totally contaminated by my desire to have a good time, but I’ll pretend that wasn’t the case. I thought “Elite Syncopation” was great, right up there with “Les Patineurs” as a fab, fun ensemble piece, but even better because it had wonderful music (I love ragtime), amazing costumes (I couldn’t focus properly on the dancing because of them) and lighthearted, lovely dancing that put more recent attempts at the “dancers in a ballroom” to shame (sorry, Northern Ballet). I loved the references to the dances of the era, I thought Steve McRae was fab as a twinkle-toed high-flyer, I found the Hot House rag with the four man a treat – it was just lovely. And the whole time, at the back of the stage, a similarly manic-costumed band was burning it up. I can only imagine wanting to see this over and over again, just to get swept up in the magic.

So – a mixed bill, a mixed bag, and at the end I didn’t feel any closer to understanding what makes Kenneth MacMillans “style” anymore than I did before (other than a tendency to do complex partnerings with women). That said, it was a good night and good programming, and I’ll keep working at getting Mr. MacMillan worked out since there’s no shortage of his work to be seen now that I’m over here.

(This review is for a performance that took place on Wednesday, March 24th, 2010. The MacMillan Triple Bill continues through April 15th, 2010.)

Ballet review – As One, Rushes, Infra – Royal Ballet at the Royal Opera House

February 23, 2010

On Friday I went to the Royal Opera House to catch the world premiere of “As One,” the first mainstage ballet create by Jonathan Watkins of the Royal Ballet. I always try to catch triple bills like this one, but there was the extra added bonus of highly affordable stalls seats and a Wayne MacGregor ballet to entice me to come. Still, brand new ballet! It’s always a cause to celebrate.

While I’m happy that Royal Ballet is giving new choreographers the experience of working on the mainstage, I’m afraid “As One” didn’t really gel for me, despite the generally enthusiastic reception it’s received elsewhere (see Ballet.co.uk for the long list). The varied scenes, moving from random dancing to a party to people sitting in a waiting room, seemed to have little common thread linking them, and individually, while there was perhaps some interesting movement, I wasn’t able to catch a real narrative to make the arabesque HERE mimed use of channel changer HERE form any kind of coherent whole. The best scene to me was Laura Morera and Edward Watson’s “Channel Surfing” scene, in which a couple dealt with the familiar “all you do is watch TV, you never pay attention to me” conundrum, though I didn’t really feel it worth of depiction on stage. However, their interaction was very real, and lent itself to the final sequence of the ballet, which seemed to be saying “If only we could get into that little box, we could actually be living real lives – or maybe it’s the fantasy we need to bring into reality.” While I enjoyed Simon Daw’s flexible set design, I found the production overall a limp squib, one that I think won’t be getting remounted anywhere else and will be lucky even to be revived again. Still, I’m glad to have seen it, and I’m looking forward to watching Watkins grow over time.

Next up was “Rushes,” a piece I’d not seen before, but given that the music was by Prokofiev and Carlos Acosta was going to be providing an (unexpected for me) star turn, I was feeling pretty positive about the possibilities. This ballet was full of mysteries for me (especially since I hadn’t shelled out for a program – why have they become so expensive?), but, watching the movie projected on the bead screen at the front of the stage and the strange Expressionist set behind, I decided to read it as a story about a person who’d fallen in love with a movie star (Laura Morera, the woman in the red dress) – not a real person, but someone who only existed inside of the movies (sort of like Neil Gaiman’s short story “Goldfish Pond”). As I read it, he was able to break into his fantasy world, but was ultimately rejected by it and forced to return to reality, where poor Alina Cojocaru was still waiting for him.

Carlos was, as ever, a great partner – well, okay, he did actually look like he was having a problem getting Alina over his shoulders smoothly – and he performed cartwheels and hanstands effortlessly. Still, there’s something increasingly heavy about how he moves, and he’s having a hard time holding the stage after Steve McRae comes on. This production seemed well suited to the Carlos persona, however, and instead of wincing at overacting, instead I was able to just enjoy his unfettered displays of passion. And yay for Kim Brandstrup, I really enjoyed this ballet.

In keeping with the night’s theme of “the inability to make human connection,” we finished with MacGregor’s “Infra,” a work I’d seen before. This was much improved by being watched from the stalls, as from my normal upper amphitheater seats, Julian Opie’s videoscape of animated people walking across the upper half of the stage (hanging in the air) is on equal weight with the actual people and very difficult to ignore. Now I could really focus on the dancers, and, as ever, given amazing choreography, they rose to the challenge. Like last time, the most can’t-tear-your-eyes away moment was the duet Erik Underwood performed with (was it?) Sarah Lamb, a tiny slip of a woman (perhaps the same couple MacGregor used in “Limen” though I’m not sure).

I spent some time trying to understand why this duet was so much more emotionally powerful than the ones that were taking place even within the same work, and I think it came down to them making eye contact with each other throughout; instead of the woman just being manipulated by the man, she was a full partner in what they were doing, and the effect was heady, not to mention erotic (the undulating hips added to it a lot). I knew what was coming, though; the dance would lead to the point of abandonment, the tiny blonde curled up on stage, wrecked, while the many other people – the tide of humanity – walked by her. There are so many of us and yet it is so hard to connect with each other, and it’s heartbreaking to be reminded of our essential loneliness. Still, to feel like that watching ballet on stage is actually rather uplifting – it’s a wonderful place to find beauty in sadness, and a great feeling to walk out into the night with. Overall, this was a good triple bill, and I’m really glad to have been there.

(This review is for a performance that took place on Friday, February 19th, 2010. The program continues through March 4th.)

Review – Carlos Acosta – Apollo and Other Works (Faun, New Apollo, Suite of Dances, Apollo) – Sadler’s Wells

December 3, 2009

Last night’s Carlos Acosta show was the weakest solo outing this Royal Ballet star has had to date. I can understand that over the course of the three years since I have been watching him that his body might be changing and he might no longer be capable of the spectacular leaps and spins of the Spartacus solos; but this show even avoided the imaginative programming that was the saving grace of his similarly sold-out summer Coliseum performance, leaving us with cold leftovers for dinner.

What we did get was an “Apollo” he performed as part of another Acosta highlights evening some three years ago that showed off his strengths (his incredible partnering skills make him the ideal Balanchine male lead) as well as his torso (in a skimpy toga). We also got a perfectly danced Robbin’s “Afternoon of a Faun,” in which he stretched gorgeously and, as near as I can tell, identically to the way he did this piece with Royal Ballet two years ago. Do these ballets show him as a sexy guy? Yes. Did they push him as a dancer? I think not.

The third work*, Robbin’s “Suite of Dances,” just seemed, again, a lazy choice. It was performed to a butchered Bach’s cello suite in which the playing got so insufferably bad at the end my friend thought the cellist had snapped a string: please fire Natalie Chen now. The first of the suites was joyful and an incredible chance to see musical perfection expressed by the human body; but as the piece wore on, with time filled by skipping and booty-shaking, I began to wonder just what this was doing in the middle of what I was expecting to be a male dance spectacular. Surrounded by two fiery works, it would have been fine; but given that most of what he did was pose, lift, and stretch in both of the other pieces, “Dances” was an utter letdown and basically represented what was wrong with the evening.

Look at this great dancer with his spectacular form, unusual background, and remarkable ability to pack a house. I would expect choreographers would be fighting to create original work for him, but I saw nothing of the sort** in this extremely short program (finished at about 9:15PM), and he didn’t even give us the pleasure of pulling from his Ballet Nacional de Cuba experiences to round out the show and broaden our horizons. Carlos, if you can’t do Spartacus or the “Dance of the Golden Idol” anymore – and based on your summer show I think that’s not yet true – can you at least spare some effort show us something new***?

*Performed in the middle of the show, mind you, but certainly third in terms of quality.

**Yes, there was one original work but Adam Hougland’s “Young Apollo” wasn’t even danced by Acosta. I don’t mind him not dancing in everything but I’d think he’d take on the new piece for himself.

***Rather than just showing off your body. Yeah, you’re built, I get it, but seriously, it’s getting to be a bit of a joke that I go to see a Carlos Acosta show and it’s like Chippendales with classical music.

(This review is for a performance that took place on Wednesday, December 2nd, 2009. The show is sold out but it’s not really worth getting bothered about if you can’t get a ticket – if you’ve been before, you’ve already seen it all.)

Late summer 2009 theater schedule

July 21, 2009

This time of the year is full of Russian ballet and barbeques and beach time and precious little else other than the Union Theatre’s annual Gilbert and Sullivan show. The Mariinsky/Kirov is running a bit rich for my tastes, unfortunately (though the programming is so unimaginative I’m not too hurt), Anastasia Volochkova was a disaster, and I’ve already been to the Union. What, then, is on my schedule for the next month an a half?

Shockingly, I’ve still managed to get pretty busy, with an average of two shows a week. Carlos Acosta is at the Coliseum this week – an event long awaited and for which I bought tickets back in April or so – and I’ve also got some Kirov Swan Lake tickets for August so I won’t be completely balletless this summer. The Arcola is doing Ghosts, so I’ll get to add to my life count of Ibsen shows. And the West End Whingers have given me a hot tip on a new show, Jerusalem (at the Royal Court), that I’m hoping will take the tang of the crappy Peer Gynt I saw away (and have also apparently saved me from seeing The Black Album – I want to see new theater but only if it doesn’t suck).

On a lighthearted, summer appropriate, wallet-friendly musical kick, I’m going to see “Blink! – and you missed it,” ” hits from the shows you missed” (including The Act, The Rink, and Ragtime), which should be thoroughly tickling my musical theater geek funnybone, as well as La Cage Aux Folles, which for some reason Ambassadors was hawking at a “fill the theater at any cost” price (£10) back in June. I’ll be hitting Forbidden Broadway for a second go-round in mid-August, then winding everything up with Alan Cumming’s solo show I Bought a Blue Car Today on September 1st. What a great way to wrap up the summer!

Schedule:
23 July Thursday: Carlos Acosta & Friends (have an extra ticket FYI)
24 July Friday: La Cage Aux Folles
31 July Friday: Ghosts, Arcola
6 August Thursday: Blink! … and you missed it
7 August Friday: Jerusalem, Royal Court
8 August Saturday: Swan Lake, Kirov/Mariinsky Ballet, Royal Opera House
19 August Wednesday: Forbidden Broadway, Menier Chocolate Factory
25 August Tuesday: A Streetcar Named Desire, The Donmar Warehouse
1 September Tuesday: Alan Cumming’s I Bought a Blue Car Today

(Other shows TBA.)

Program for 2009 “Carlos Acosta and Friends” announced

July 15, 2009

I just got this email for the Carlos Acosta and friends show I’m going to next week. Here’s the program if you’re interested. (If you want a ticket, you may want to check the Ballet.co.uk forums, though you’ll need to be registered to respond to a posting.

PART ONE

Overture
Ben Stevenson’s Three Preludes
Ivan Tenorio’s Ritmicas
ADDED: Yuri Grigorovich’s Spartacus
Frederick Ashton’s Rhapsody
John Neumeier’s Othello
Azari Plisetski’s Canto Vital

INTERVAL(20 mins)

PART TWO

Kim Brandstrup’s DK60
Derek Deane’s Summertime
Michel Descombey’s Dying Swan
Ramon Gomez Reis’ Over There
Miguel Altunaga’s Memoria
Georges Garcia’s Majisimo

GUEST ARTISTS

Florencia Chinellato – Hamburg Ballet
Amilcar Moret – Hamburg Ballet
Begona Cao – ENB
Arionel Vargas – ENB
Roberta Marquez – The Royal Ballet
Steven McRae – The Royal Ballet
Miguel Altunaga – Rambert Dance Company
Pieter Symonds – Rambert Dance Company
Veronica Corveas – Ballet Nacional de Cuba

Due to unforeseen circumstances Nina Kaptsova of the Bolshoi Ballet will not be able to participate in the run of Carlos Acosta & Guest Artists at the Coliseum July 22-25.

Nina Kaptsova was due to dance the Pas de Deux from Spartacus.

Great deal for tickets to the Royal Ballet’s “La Bayadere” (January 2009)

January 7, 2009

Today’s Metro had a great deal for the Royal Ballet’s La Bayadere – main floor (orchestra) tickets for only £42.50 on the performances taking place January 13, 21, 22, and 26th at 7:30 PM. I haven’t ever made it to the main floor (normal prices around £80 make this a ridiculous extravagance for me), but this is tempting – I saw the Bolshoi’s Bayadere and it’s really pretty cool, a classic (yet over the top and somewhat camp) 19th century story ballet, complete with a third act that takes place in the land of the dead that’s up there with Swan Lake and Giselle and basically a must-see.

Anyway, the details are thus: go to WWW.ROH.ORG/BAYADERE, type “metro” (or maybe METRO) into the “have a code” box and click go.

Good luck! I would assume it’s not the A cast performing on these nights, but given that it’s the Royal Ballet, you can’t really lose – it’s not exactly a company with only one or two great dancers, and seeing who’s “up and coming” is still a pleasure.

LATER: Holy cow, the cast on the 13th includes total hotties Tamara Rojo, Marianela Nuñez AND Carlos Acosta, SIGN ME UP!