Posts Tagged ‘dance reviews’

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.)

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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.)

  • Review – Birmingham Ballet’s “Stravinsky: A Celebration” (Petrushka, Firebird, Le Baiser de la Fée) – Sadler’s Wells

    November 1, 2008

    I had a really good evening tonight at the Birmingham Ballet’s Stravinsky program, about which I’d like to say lots and lots with references to all the dancers but since it got out at eleven PM (the program said 10:40), I’m finding myself home just shortly after midnight and not at my most eloquent. (That said since there are two more shows tomorrow, I’m going to give this a brief rundown in case one or two folks out there might be considering going.)

    I had seen The Firebird two years back and was very excited about seeing it again by the same company, even more so because the rest of the ballets to be performed were also done to the music of Stravinsky, whom I consider one of the very best ballet composers out there. (Prokofiev, Stravinsky, Tchiakovsky – what is it with the Russians and the ballet composing? Maybe it’s something magical about growing up in a society where ballet is worshiped and classical music is also revered, but the Russians really own the whole “consistently great scores for ballet” category.) I was unfamiliar with the other two (though I’d heard of Petrushka), so I was looking forward to an evening of surprises – though I had no idea I’d have almost three full hours of dance on the table!

    Petrushka is a surreal, if fun, ballet. A Chagall-like Russian village is visited by a sort of evil wizard, who plays the flute to make his puppets – a Moor (not PC in any way), a dancer girl, and a clown (Petrushka) – dance. Backstage at his house, we see that his puppets are actually psychologically tortured and kept by demons! At the village the next day, the clown makes a break for it and dies – the end. (Or this is what I thought the story was – I was too cheap to buy a program.) Meanwhile we get lots of great dancing from the various characters in the village, as well as pathos from the clown. My favorite: the two stable boys who blazed their way across stage in leaps of such height I wasn’t even registering them as real. (There was also lots of the squatting and kicking Russian dancing going on, which I have to imagine is not really the best thing for a dancer’s knees.) Petrushka is based on the original choreography (I’m betting) by Mikhail Fokine, and I found it a treat, if bizarre.

    A very long break later and we were back for Le Baiser de la Fée, a new ballet choreographed by Michael Corder for Birmingham Ballet based on a story by Hans Christian Anderson (and reading rather a whole lot like the first third of the Snow Queen to me). Let me tell you about this performance: SEXY MALE FAIRIES. Er, well, in the program they are called “sprites” (and backstage they’re known as Aaron Robison and Tom Rogers), but when they were on stage I was about embarassing myself gawking at them. They’re tall, they’re muscular, and rather than just wearing tights, they were dressed in these spangled black and grey flame outfits that crawled up from their hips to their shoulders, with sort of twiggy headdresses on top of it all. My jaw dropped when the came on stage and pretty well stayed there while they were on.

    This was probably a good thing and representative of much of what wasn’t great about this part of the show. Costumes: awesome (props to John F. Macfarlane), but the dancing was just not all that when it wasn’t the fairies. “The Bride” (Natasha Oughtred), well, she was cute and lithe, but she seemed … disposable. There was none of the brilliance of a Coppelia, none of the tragedy of an Odette – she was just more or less a space filler, because her dancing said nothing about her. And the male corps, well, I’m afraid this piece really brought out some of their problems with ensemble work during the “village” scenes. Unison? I think it’s more of a concept for them than a goal. I am reminded that it’s invariably the men that define the skill level of a company. Good ballerinas are not that hard to find, but assembling that level of skill in a male corps is a real stretch, presumably because there are so many fewer to go around. A few good companies get to pick and choose, but for a lot of them, they take good enough. It made me miss Pacific Northwest Ballet, I tell you. At any rate, I still enjoyed the ballet, but I don’t think it’s going to become a classic. (I checked and the music was originally written for a ballet of this same name and with the same story. Perhaps some day I can see Balanchine’s version.)

    Finally, the Firebird, a ballet with a completely brilliant score, amazing (original Ballet Russes?) costumes (that you can totally see from the balcony – nothing subtle about them!), and nearly perfectly matched choreography. I could feel goosebumps forming as the low rumble of the drums started up in the orchestra pit (though the old people behind me kept talking: people, please SHUT UP during the overture. This is not the commercial break, it is the start of the show. It’s live music! There are people performing down there and you just had twenty five minutes to have that conversation!). Finally the curtain came up and we had our lovely Firebird, Nao Sakuma, darting across stage.

    As a character I love the Firebird. She is not a love interest – she remains a wild creature throughout the ballet and only dances with the prince to win her freedom again. It’s great to see movement which fights against the partnering instead of getting all smooth and mushy – and really, even the princess doesn’t do that, just bows formally. It’s a great ballet, one of my top five favorites.

    Overall, I very much enjoyed my evening and thought my thirty quid well repaid. And good news: Birmingham Ballet is coming back in the spring (April 14 – 18, 2009) to do a mixed bill (Pomp and Circumstance, they’re calling it, including the amusingly titled “Still Life at the Penguin Cafe”) and “Sylvia” (though not the Ashton choreography so I might go see it) at the London Coliseum. Score!

    (This review is for a performance that took place on Friday, October 31st, 2008.)

    Wayne McGregor’s Random Dance Company – “Proprius” – Covent Garden Piazza

    September 13, 2008

    Today I had the good luck to be able to make it to the Royal Opera House just in time to see an outdoor performance of Wayne McGregor’s Random Dance Company’s new work, “Proprius.” I was, of course, there to see the various events of the Ignite Festival – but the luck came in because I didn’t think I was going to be able to make it at all. You see, I have someone visiting me from America this week, and this person doesn’t care for theater-type stuff, and this has meant that I, for all intents and purposes, have been living a life of Total Abstinence. Aaargh. In fact, we were supposed to spend the day at the Leighton House, because said house guest enjoys architecture, and I was going to have to abandon my dreams of spending my day surrounded my installation art and fresh new dance stuff. WAH!

    And yet … my friend came down with a cold, and she was too tired to go out, so suddenly we were able to do anything we wanted to and off we went to Covent Garden, for the arts festival I’ve been wanting to go to for well over six weeks. At the very moment we arrived, people were just getting arranged on stage for “Proprius.” I said, is this not kismet? I sat down on the cobblestones (see my point of view here) and got ready to watch the performance – not having read a single thing about it. Ah, well, it’s hardly the first time.

    The key element of Proprius is, obviously, the fact that it has a huge cast of London school kids in what seemed to be the 8-14 year range. The dance started with these young folk on stage, about ten of them, a real panoply of faces and body types. It looked to me not like they had been plucked from dance schools, but rather that they were completely unaccustomed to the vocabulary of modern dance. What I was watching was them interpreting a language I knew very well through their own, untuned bodies (and to some extent minds – I’m sure it was very new to them). Wayne’s movement style is very familiar to me – a way of doing trust falls, of lifting and carrying other dancers, of turning people using your heels, of balancing in a way that’s just not quite standard in modern dance – a way I find far more intimate and involved than most modern dance, and certainly ballet – that totally says, “This is something Wayne McGregor created.” It’s a language that is as clearly itself as Chinese or Japanese – I would never mistake it for Korean just because it was in a different context. And it’s difficult, and it’s, I think, not something people wrap their heads around easily – it doesn’t really have a basis in the “language of dance” that people outside of modern dance aficionados have in their heads (think of ballroom dancing or club dancing or even how people dance in musicals – it’s not modern dance at all).

    And yet, these kids got it. They lifted and carried, they leaned and moved, they bounced off of each other, they did their best to be the dancers they had been asked to be, and they carried it off. They weren’t just trained monkeys moving into position as asked (a problem for me with nearly any performance involving children is a certain robotic approach to what they’re doing, as if the independence had been stamped out of them); they looked at each other and thought and got into it and they danced. I was really absorbed by them and their difference from usual dancers; the youngest ones (especially the boys) were a bit gawky, the older girls were frequently of a more normal body type than dancer women are (which made them move differently, though their own inexperience seemed to be the real delimiter of movement style), and their faces communicated more than they may have wanted to. (I especially felt for one girl who got kicked in the face by someone else who couldn’t see where she was; she looked pretty unhappy, but big points to her for soldiering on.)

    I realized while I was watching them that they actually represented a lot more of what I think London is like than I ever see in dance troupes; profoundly multi-cultural, with a range of life experiences. They also danced like they really cared about doing it well. I got bizarrely excited about this, in part because I get frustrated about how overwhelmingly white (or perhaps culturally segregated) dance tends to be. I was reminded of the Ballet Black show that I had found so disappointing several months back. These kids showed enthusiasm and embraced the technique so well that I wondered if any of them harbored dreams of being dancers. Why couldn’t this be the school performance of the ROH’s ballet school? I wanted to watch their technique continue to develop!

    AHEM. Interspersed between the sets done by the groups of kids – there seemed to be about forty of them, and they were dancing in groups of ten to twelve – were sets done by the adult members of Random Dance. They were doing the usual McGregory moves – curling over each other, carrying each other, making me go gah! as they balanced on one foot then raised the other leg to be parallel to their bodies (with their feet next to their heads!), being tight and thoughtful and gorgeous and making me wish I always sat so close to the stage when watching dancers.

    I was fascinated by the difference between the adults and the children. Clearly there was a huge discrepancy in terms of professionalism, but in addition to the variation/benefit ten years of dance training will make, there was also the change that the aging had done in terms of development of muscles and bodies. These dancers could do more because they had more to do it with. In some ways, it was like listening to language spoken by skilled adults, complete with rhymes, puns, and literary allusions. (Alas, I took no notes and cannot discuss the dance in much more detail than this.)

    About two thirds of the way through the piece, a very different group of young dancers came on stage. I was pretty curious about what was going on – many of them were wearing glasses and they stood and carried themselves differently. I realized that, in his groups of kids, Wayne had added in a batch of developmentally disabled kids. “Wow,” I thought. I have never seen kids like this dance on stage. What was going to happen?

    Well, what happened is that these kids, who’d clearly been rehearsing along with the rest of the group, got out there and danced. The vocabulary was still the same, and their faces were far more communicative than even the other kids’ were, and they did show their frustration visibly at times (I think there may have been some confusion about what was supposed to be happening), but they still moved, and moved in ways that were clearly recognizable as a choreographed dance. It felt a bit like Wayne had done some things to make the movement such that it might be more clearly cued off of other dancers’ movement, so that they were helping each other figure out what to do next, and there wasn’t so much in the way of lifts and trust falls – but they weren’t being coached by someone standing on stage, they were doing it on their own. And I thought, wow, this is so cool. We really do have a group of dancers that really reflects the richness of London. I liked seeing that on stage. They weren’t being pandered to or talked down to, and we as the audience weren’t being talked down to, either. I felt like, this is our community, these kids are a part of our community, and we’re all sharing in this experience of what dance is and how it “sounds” different depending on who is speaking it but the words and the language structure are still the same. And I was really proud of Mr. McGregor for really going for it, and for making it successful, and for treating these kids with respect as performers just as much as he had the other group.

    The final bit was the adult dancers performing with the kids from earlier in the performance, and I loved it. The adults were really into it, seeming to be very enthused by working with the more inexperienced dancers – not at all bored or put upon, but rather wanting to very much see these girls (I think it was mostly girls for the last bit) look good and do their best and make a good showing. And the kids rose to the challenge. One girl, a black girl with curly golden braids, just sort of turned into a professional dancer in front of my eyes when she partnered with a gorgeous male Random Dance company member – she stood up straight, she looked completely serious, she moved great, SHE rose to be as good of a partner for him as he was for her. It reminded me of how, when I sing with someone who’s a great piano player, I suddenly find all of these notes and ornamentation coming out of my mouth that I didn’t know were going to be there It was fantastic and very energizing for me as an audience member.

    Overall, I found this a really uplifting performance and a real pleasure. McGregor didn’t compromise his choreography because he expected less of his dancers (I mean, technically clearly he didn’t try to get them to do moves they couldn’t, but the intelligence of his dance was in no way diluted), and I felt, as an audience member, really pleased by what I got to see.

    And after this there were so many cool things to see inside the opera house for the rest of the festival! (Alas, no time to review them today.) Ultimately my only regret was that I couldn’t see all of the installations and performances in the time remaining me (especially the “Chocolate Tasting: Interactive” event – just my kind of art). I do really hope Ignite becomes a regular event at the ROH and every year we celebrate the birth of the new season with a weekend of riotous, thought-provoking installations, events, and performances in the friendly confines of Covent Garden and the Royal Opera House.

    (This review is for the 2 PM performance that took place on Saturday, September 13th. Proprius will be performed again September 14th at 1 and 3 PM in Covent Garden in the corner in front of the Royal Opera House entrance. Admission is free.)

    Hamlet – Northern Ballet Theatre – Sadler’s Wells

    April 23, 2008

    I have to say I was a bit worried about how a ballet interpretation of Hamlet would come out. I’d gone to see Christopher Wheeldon’s “Elsinore” last year, and it just had no emotional power at all. How could such a neat tale, one of the most powerful tales in western literature, come off so damn flat? It almost made me feel like modern choreographers should just stick with plotless ballets. But since “Romeo and Juliet” is really so good, and I think ballet/dance really is good at story telling, AND I have this bizarre wish to see the repertory of story ballets extended beyond the old chestnuts (I mean, seriously, Matthew Bourne has done so well – with retreads), that I just queued right up for tickets for this show, based simply on a desire for wish fulfillment. (And right beforehand, I turned to J and said, “God, I hope this is good!” – the theatre-goer’s eternal prayer.)

    To my pleasure, Northern Ballet Theatre’s Hamlet (choreographed by David Nixon and new this year) was really good. They had moved the story up to World War Two and Occupied Paris – a fairly common resetting for Shakespeare, at least in terms of the World Wars – but then made several changes to the story that could irritate purists but served to drive the story much better than a slavish adherence to the original would have. Hamlet’s dad (Steven Wheeler) was Paris’ head of police, killed by his uncle Claudius (Darren Goldsmith) in a blatant act of career climbing/toadying when the Nazis moved into town. This means that Hamlet (Christopher Hinton-Lewis, phwoar) is not a prince in this show, but, as a commoner, his grief at the loss of his dad is actually much more moving. I also found the women quite intriguing in an environment in which dealing with powerlessness and being, essentially, prisoners so strongly informed their actions. Gertrude (Nathalie Leger) was a fool, to be sure, but she seemed so much less of a conspirator than just another person trying to survive in very bad circumstances, and at the end, her affection for Hamlet seemed quite genuine (despite the fact that during the, er, sex scene with Claudius, she looked most unmotherly and quite sprightly in her vintage 40’s unmentionables).

    And, of course, there’s Ophelia (Georgina May). Oddly, I’ve just come off of reading the book Something Rotten, which is a meta-literary comedy in which Ophelia and Polonius attempt to become the stars of the “play formerly starring Hamlet,” and it’s somehow left me with this idea that Ophelia isn’t satisfied with her role in the play (even though this is totally an artifact of the book). I felt like Hamlet’s relationship with Ophelia was much better realized in this ballet than it is in the play – their love dance in the first act was just … beautiful (*gets goosebumps*). The way Hamlet lifted and carried her over his back (once he’d finally engaged with her through his sorrow), the way they held each other’s faces, the way he slid above her and she grabbed ahold of his body to lift herself right up off of the floor – it showed a degree of affection and tenderness that I never saw in Shakespeare. In addition, her mad scene in act two was FANTASTIC, a total star turn for Miss May. I’ve never seen changing the way someone walks so perfectly capture someone who’s gone over the edge – clip-clopping flat-footed in her toe shoes, hiding behind pillars, and of course handing out her bizarre little Nazi posies to the various guests at the dance. She put Lucia di Lammermoor to shame and, frankly, pulled far more of a star turn than the original Ophelia ever managed. Complain about lack of faith to the original? You’ll not hear me make a peep. This adaptation was nothing short of fantastic.

    There was a lot more to this show, though, including leaping leather clad Nazis, black gowned Cabaret-style chanteuses, torture scenes, and men dancing in boots up to their knees – not really in the style of either a typical R&J (for some reason as a ballet Romeo and Juliet is ALWAYS Renaissance Italy) or a sexless Swan Lake. I can’t really say that the dance was outstanding other than in the Ophelia scenes – there was a near total lack of dancing on pointe, which made me sad – but it was good, in general, there was a rockin’ duel at the end, and it was a coherent work of theater that came complete with an original score. In short: highly recommended, and I hope it passes into the general ballet repertory.

    Wayne McGregor’s Random Dance company – “Entity” – Sadler’s Wells

    April 11, 2008

    I admit it: I’m stumped. I did not get this performance at all. Worse, the people I brought with me apparently DID. Quote: “It’s a show best appreciated by bisexual math geeks.” I will attempt to explain what this means, but for non-math geeks I recommend buying the program – which I did not do – in hopes of clarification. The Sadler’s Wells website unfortunately doesn’t help. After my take on the show, I’ll include their take (in my inadequate words), to hopefully present both sides.

    I have been convinced Wayne McGregor is a genius since I saw “Chroma” – and if he’s managed to get a friend of mine to like modern dance, via a piece I did not get at all – then there’s really got to be something to the man – and to the show. I went specifically because I wanted to see what he was up to as a choreographer, and this was the first offering I was aware of since “Chroma.” (more…)

    Carlos Acosta and Friends – London Coliseum

    April 10, 2008

    Tonight was the long-anticipated “Carlos Acosta and Friends” show at the London Coliseum I bought tickets for, er, two or more months back. Since I’ve moved here, I’ve become quite a fan of this dancer. The show I saw him in two autumns ago blew me away; I felt as if I were in the presence of a Barishnikov, of one of the true legends of dance. The way he lands his jumps, the angle his body takes in the air, his attentive partnering, his stage presence … he leaves me breathless. It’s just hard to believe dance can be this good.

    The show was very equally focused on Mr. Acosta and the various members of Danza Contemporanea de Cuba. It opened with Alicia Alonzo’s staging of Petipa’s “Don Quixote Pas de Deux,” with Yolanda Correa. Whew – what a dancer she was! When he held her up on pointe – her other leg extended behind her, one arm gracefully above her, the opposite hand in his – and then let her go, it was like she was pinned to the floor, like seeing a hummingbird poised in the air in front of a flower. Acosta was also amazing – he did a leap that I thought was physiologically impossible – something about how he threw his back and his leg just made me think he couldn’t possibly do that and then land on his feet, and yet he did, and then repeated it. I can’t really even describe the jump, it didn’t seem like how a human being could move and my brain couldn’t process it. Anyway, even though I frequently find these old-time ballet duets cheesy, with two such brilliant performers it was all fireworks and left the audience roaring. And God, can Acosta spin! I’m surprised the floor didn’t catch on fire.

    Next up were two contemporary pieces featuring the Cuban company. The first one, George Cespedes’ “La Ecuación,” didn’t initially seem very promising. Four dancers walked, one by one, onto a silent stage on which was a wire cube, about 10 feet high; each dancer paused in the cube and did some kind of … well, it seemed like horrible mime, and as the audience members coughed loudly I couldn’t help but feel they were passing some kind of judgment on the piece.

    But then the music came on and the lights flashed to color and the cube became all their was of the stage, and suddenly we were watching what seemed to me very much like an insane Capoeira demonstration. It was all about stylized street fighting, the three women and the man bouncing off each other, in twos, in threes, dancing all four, ganging up two on one, flipping each other over their arms, while this driving Cuban drum music made me want to get up and dance. I caught that Alena Leon and Sorgalim Villarrutia were in this piece, and two other dancers whose names I’m not sure of (the program didn’t make it clear which of four possibilities were on each night), and LOVED their commitment and energy. Every second they were on stage they were completely “there,” completely engaged with each other if they were partnering, and their bodies moved like magic. It was really energizing, even in our crap seats in the second balcony. Shockingly, the dancers ended the piece as if they still had a little more in them – hard to believe, really!

    The third piece, “El Peso de Una Isla” (also by Cespedes) started out with a smoke covered stage that the various members of the 14 or so strong company slithering out and then doing backflips or something on stage. I didn’t know what to think – were they zombies? Were they vampires? Was this suddenly going to turn into “Thriller?” What it did turn into was a pretty big group thing with a lot of couple work, a lot of spinning on knees, falling onto backs and then knees, men pushing women around, women catching men and yanking them … and it all just seemed to take a little too long.

    The final piece, “Tocororo Suite,” had a live Cuban band and the entire Danza ensemble. It’s about Carlos discovering … I don’t know, he needs to leave ballet behind and learn the moves of his country? It didn’t really seem to have much of a plot, but there was very fine Cuban dancing, Carlos got to show off a bit, and the music was great. I fear Mr. Acosta doesn’t really have great chops as a choreographer, but … one can hope this will change over time, as at 35 the word on the street is he’s passed his peak. That said, I’m going to make it my mission to see everything he’s in in the next year so I can take advantage of him while he’s around.

    Overall, it was a good evening – not brilliant like the Sadler’s Wells production I saw some 18 months ago, but fun with great dance and wonderful music. I would recommend it, though tickets are VERY steep – best to go if you love Acosta or Cuban music/dance (or, like me, both).

    Ballet Black – Linbury Studio, Royal Opera House

    April 9, 2008

    Since this show is sold out, I’m not going to do too thorough a review, even though I took fairly extensive notes – either you’ve got tickets or you can’t get them, and my review won’t affect what you do. (Note that due to demand, an extra Saturday matinee has been added, so perhaps tickets might still be available – check with the Royal Opera House ticket office. Actually, I checked, and they’re available as of Thursday afternoon, so if you want to see them, jump on it!)

    Sadly, the choreography tonight was mostly fair to middlin’ and the dancers were …. not impressive. I thought maybe they were not hitting things in the first piece because it was new to their repertoire, but later it became clear there was a lot of missing going on – legs not able to go equally high (and a general lack of unison when it was called for), sloppy handling of partners (“Don’t drop her!”), a clumsiness on pointe (I realized that usually I am focused on a dancer’s face when she is tiptoeing toward me, but tonight, I could tell her mind was on her feet, and I watched them instead) – just a not-entirely polished group. I actually wound up watching the male dancers in hope of getting more satisfaction from their performances (I usually prefer to watch the women as they get more exciting movement), and while I was really impressed with, say, Jaime Rodney’s extension, Darrius Grey’s partner work (again, for example) was just not inspired. On the other hand, Stephanie Williams had great stage presence – though I think in her heart she wants to be doing solos and not ensemble work. (more…)

    Nederlands Dans Theater – Jirí Kylián’s Wings of Wax and Tar and Feathers; Lightfoot and León’s Signing Off – Sadler’s Wells

    April 3, 2008

    Three’s the charm as we practically forced ourselves out tonight, but I never really had any questions: Nederlands Dans Theater is one of the world’s top modern dance companies, the absolute A rank, and I didn’t really expect it would be anything but a great night. The evening opened with the classic “Wings of Wax,” a gorgeous meditation on movement and not-movement set underneath a suspended, inverted tree. The movement of the dancers was fluid and gorgeously handled the Biber Partita (which reminded me of the old round “Rose/will I ever see thee wed”) and its transition into a Cage fixed piano piece and then the mechanical rhythms of Glass. It had all of the texture I was wishing for last night – the dancers could be performing solo or with others, but somehow it never became rote. I’d actually seen this piece in Seattle years before, and I’m convinced it’s a modern classic.

    Next up was the highlight of the evening (for me): Lightfoot and León’s “Signing Off.” It said in the program people were fighting to get pieces choreographed by this duo and I now believe it. The piece was just this … gesamtkunstwerk, if that’s the right phrase, a perfect combination of set, light, movement, and music. How it managed to actually use a set in a way I’d never seen before just kind of blows my mind, but we sat around dissecting it later, how it created so many spaces, how it helped the dance’s narrative, how it let the dancers fade into darkness gracefully, how it did so much using basically fairly basic technology so much better than any modern dance we’d ever seen. It shamed every thing I’ve ever seen that used video and I hereby ban TV screens from dance performances until every piece can approach the genius of the waterfall of mottled red silk that formed the end look of the piece. And that’s in addition to the fantastic dancing. The middle bit, with the three men in white pants … I’m a bit speechless. It was pretty well perfection.

    Finally was the utterly bizarre “Tar and Feathers,” which I can describe elements of without claiming to understand. The set, a piano on elongated legs a la Dali, the other half of the stage dominated by a kind of ice crystal thing that was actually coated in bubble wrap; the sound, improvised piano with freakish barking that set the teenagers next to me laughing nearly uncontrollably; the movement – well, there was one bit where a woman was walking across stage on two men’s back, each of them rising up to move her forward as she “stepped,” and there was some neat multi-limbed stuff with three dancers hanging on each other, and the every-popular “pushing a dancer with her head” and clapping and hand fluttering; but I couldn’t make a bit of sense out of it. Interesting, modern, to be sure, but I couldn’t get any kind of connection between the movement in my head. The house still roared its approval at the end (while the dancer who was on stage the longest smiled wanly and looked like she wanted nothing more than to run offstage and collapse), so it was probably good but a little ahead of my personal ability to appreciate.

    (More details of this brilliant show here.)

    This review is for a performance that took place on April 3rd, 2008.