Posts Tagged ‘David Bintley’

Mini-review – Aladdin – Birmingham Royal Ballet at London Coliseum

March 22, 2013

A new, full-length ballet is always a cause for celebration in this age of fiscal cutbacks, so I was excited that Birmingham Royal Ballet was bringing its production of Aladdin to London for all of us Big Smoke dwellers to see. Whee! What would David Bintley have on offer?

Well, one thing we did get was some awesome costumes and some really awesome sets. For me, the best part of the whole evening was when my favorite set (the magic cave, complete with color changing, glowing stalactites) met the greatest variety of costumes, producing the best set of dances … a new set of “Jewels,” as dancers representing the treasures of the Djinn swirled and capered around the open-jawed Aladdin (and then dropped a few gifts into his turban). My favorite was gold and silver, the men (William Bracewell and Tom Rogers) looking like incarnations of Louis XIV, the women (Yvette Knight and Yijing Zhang) with silver half-moons on their heads reminding me of Renaissance paintings of Artemis. I also enjoyed the exoticism of the Rubies duet (Momoko Hirata and Joseph Caley) – it had a nice feel of many of the Arabian/Coffee sequences from The Nutcracker.

Also a pleasure to watch was Tzu-Chao Chou as The Djinn of the Lamp, a role which gave him, not just the opportunity to fly around with smoke in the air, but lots of opportunity for spins and leaps and general displays of virtuousity. I don’t mean to sound too shallow, but I am in serious admiration of the very flattering costume he was wearing – the cut of the legs fluttered nicely, adding to the sense of motion.

While the plotting of the ballet was good and did not descend into Panto silliness (Aladdin meets evil magician; Aladdin is taken to cave and locked in; Aladdin escapes with help of lamp, marries local princess; princess inadvertently trades old lamp for new and is kidnapped by magician; Aladdin uses his wits to set everything right, unless you are the evil magician; triumphal scene in palace), I found the thing felt a bit like a pastiche of dance as well as music, and lacked a unifying driving force to it. I do enjoy spectacle, and we got both a lion dance and a dragon dance, as well as great animated puppets (showing the princess, Djinn and evil magician in the sky), but I wanted something more. Would a strong score have made a difference? Is Bintley’s strength in choreographing shorter ballets? I couldn’t make up my mind at the end of the night where the fault lie. I enjoyed myself enough, but I wanted greatness, and this was not achieved.

(This review is for a performance that took place on the night of Thursday, March 21st, 2013. It continues at the London Coliseum through March 24th; bargain seats might be found on the day at the TKTS booth; I got stalls seats for £25!)

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November Ballet Spectacular – Royal Ballet’s Sleeping Beauty & Mixed Bill (Agon, Sphinx, Limen)

November 18, 2009

Ballet five times in eight days? Why not, I say, why not? And with the highly touted presentation of Birmingham Royal Ballet’s newly choreographed “E=MC2” (in their “Quantum Leaps” program) and the opportunity to see a fancy (and usually expensive) story ballet from the Opera House stalls for 60 quid (Sleeping Beauty), how could I say no? Then, well, new Macgregor at the Royal Ballet, and a new(ish) story ballet (Cyrano), and, er, a commitment to see the Royal Ballet’s mixed bill program twice, and hey! It could happen to anyone, really.

First, the Agon/Sphinx/Limen triple bill, which I saw twice (Friday November 13th, cast list here, and Tuesday, November 17th,
cast list here). “Agon” reminded me how very difficult Balanchine really is – but only the second time I saw it, when the male dancers failed to hit the right sense of unity, I twice saw people adjust themselves after failing to hit their mark, and the whole thing generally smelt like “work” instead of “dance.” The long duet toward the end was particularly different; whereas on Friday, Acosta seemed somewhat bored and workmanlike as he manipulated his partner through a series of movements (including a “drunk ballerina” sequence in which she keeps falling into the splits and being lifted up again), the same duet seemed forced and uncomfortable Tuesday, as if the dancers hadn’t done it enough to forget about what they were doing and just do it. I felt every technical detail of how to make a catch and how to do a turn was exposed to the naked eye, and I didn’t like it.

On Friday, I got caught up in the weirdness of the extremely late 1950s Stravinsky music and the great deep drums (and – was that xylophones?), though I wasn’t entirely able to get caught up in the experience of the dance due to the off-putting nature of my far right seats (cutting off a quarter of the stage). Still, in retrospect, I realize Friday’s cast was pretty well hitting the mark, though in general I think Pacific Northwest Ballet does this dance better.

“Sphinx” … well. Much as “Agon” was as purely late 1950s as Peggy Guggenheim’s house, “Sphinx” was totally late 70s. The costumes were Tron meets Stargate with some headbands thrown in for good measure, and … God, I saw it twice, and I just found it the most unspeakably pretentious thing I’ve seen since the horrid “Pierrot Lunaire“. There’s a bit where “Anubis” is dancing in circles around “The Sphinx” and “Oedipus,” and I just thought … why why why? Who cares about what they’re doing? Why are they acting like they’re performing in a silent movie? Why does he keep balancing her on his shoulder when it’s so clearly a wiggly place to sit? When is there going to be some dancing that actually matters? Why was this revived at all? The music wasn’t bad but … never again.

Finally, Wayne Macgregor’s new ballet, “Limen,” my last and best hope for great new ballet of the year and the reason why I was at this program twice.

Well. I’m sorry to say, but it looks like David Bintley, about whom I knew almost nothing before this week, has utterly stolen the hot ballet trophy away from Wayne this year. (Let’s be clear: much like the search for the world’s best gelato, the search for the hot ballet of the year is one in which the searcher will always win. Still, I was surprised.) Wayne gave us … er, boxes and lines on the floor, and a cool projection, and good music … but the dance was … kinda out of the same box of stuff he usually uses, the great extensions, the butts sticking out, but without the cool “breaking the boundaries” moves he’s thrown in to spice it up. In fact, with almost no partnering in this ballet, it just felt a wee bit sterile.

Except, of course, for the utterly gorgeous middle bit in which a man and a woman did the most amazing work. Both times I saw the same cast, he black and she white, looking like yin and yang together … the movement utterly enchanting, in some ways almost a response to the Balanchine that opened the evening, making the manipulations worked on the ballerina earlier seem so heavy and coarse … now delicate, lifting, bending, flowing, working together as one, his strength, her grace and flexibility … perfect.

And then it was time for the big black wall with the winking blue lightbulbs to show up and end the dance, and I found myself thinking, “E=MC2 was it, I’m so glad I went, I wish I’d seen it twice”, and bam, the end of the night, the end of the ballet year, let down but glad I’d hedged my bets and run off to see BRB earlier in the week.

The day before my second viewing of the mixed bill I went to see Sleeping Beauty, and I really am just not going to be able to say too much about it as, well, it was dry. I realize this production is some kind of touchstone for the British ballet public but for me I about choked on the dust rolling off of the sets and costumes, which reminded me of some little girl’s room in her grandmother’s house, circa 1950, pastel green on pastel pink on pastel purple BAH. The ballet itself has almost no plot and is just really a set piece for some tricksy dance moves, so if you want emotion and not canned Petipa “let’s show of the technique of the dancers,” then it’s going to be Cyrano for you. Admittedly, even the New York Times’ reviewer criticized Tamara Rojo for her rather stiff Aurora, and perhaps this was part of the problem; I could go “ooh, she stayed on that balance almost until infinity,” but I didn’t really care. It was just like watching … the circus or something. I wanted to be involved, like the way I am when my heart breaks for Giselle, but I wasn’t.

Anyway, in the dances of the various fairies in the prologue, I did get quite a kick out of the technical prowess and charm of Sian Murphy as the “Fairy of the Woodland Glade” (she stands en pointe with her supporting leg slightly bent and does two kicks in front, then pulls up into an arabesque – did I get the fairy right?) – as well as the lightfooted (and charismatic) Iohna Loots as “Fairy of the Song Bird,” and of course I liked the bit with Puss & Boots, and the Big Bad Wolf and Red Riding Hood, and of course (I must say!) the Bluebird pas de deux in the final act … but the damned “vision” scene in the second act was just SO LONG I was running out of energy to be there any more. AAARGH. And I didn’t enjoy the dancing in that scene, either. I mean, I saw this ballet done by Pacific Northwest Ballet the year they debuted it, I didn’t enjoy it then, and still I went back. It’s like I don’t learn. It’s still the same ballet. I might just need to see it with a different ballerina in the lead, though as expensive as story ballets are at Royal Ballet it’s unlikely I’ll go back to see this in less than five years. The fact remains that it needs to be massively freshened up and redone for the 21st century instead of being such a museum piece.

Ah well, but if you look at the net result, of five nights of ballet, I did get something to enjoy every night – but for this round, it was Birmingham Royal Ballet that I enjoyed more, and ultimately David Bintley’s choreography that cranked my chain. I can’t wait to see what 2010 will have to offer!

Review – Cyrano – Birmingham Royal Ballet at Sadler’s Wells

November 13, 2009

Tonight’s Cyrano at Sadler’s Wells was the long-sought for Holy Grail of ballet: a new story ballet that was good. Birmingham Royal Ballet managed to take a play about poetry and turn it into a ballet that … well, frequently was poetry. Perhaps I exaggerate a little, but I can’t remember the last time Romeo and Juliet gave me the sniffles (“Cmon and die already!”), and Cyrano made me weepy at least twice. The music wasn’t really amazing or memorable (though it frequently sounded familiar), but it did the job and was enjoyable; the costumes were good and a nice break from fake renaissance and “modernesque” fluffy skirts and corsets.

But really, it was about the dance, wasn’t it? Elisha Willis came back from a sizzling modern turn in E=MC2 to take on the role of Roxanne, and managed to be both adorable, nimble, and graceful – but, most importantly, to be 100% believable as Roxanne all the way though. You could see why three guys were completely in love with her, and when she twirled and leapt her way through the regiment and then did an Irish step-dance turn on top of a drum, you absolutely bought that all the soldiers were now going to go over the top full of patriotic fervor. Passion, joy, fear, anguish – she had me sold every step of the way. And God, she was pretty, and cute as a butterbean in her “sneak into the battle to see my boyfriend” velvet pantsuit. I will have to make a special effort to see her next time BRB are in town.

I, of course, must now turn to Cyrano, as Robert Parker was hardly offstage the whole night. He managed an incredible upper-body expressiveness – vital when this is how you are “speaking” love letters – and also had great leaps and heart-wrenching solos. But even better, he got to fight duels, which were incredibly fun to watch, and do a love duet with someone who was in love with someone else – all while making me feel bad for him (and not just because his nose fell off after the balcony scene and he had to dance around it for about five minutes) – all while wearing a cape, a wig, and yummy custom boots. What a turnaround from Mayerling – I struggled so hard to care about its lead, but Parker had me bought the minute he kissed a market woman while fighting off a man with his blade.

Most of the “heavy lifting” was left to Iain Mackay in the role of Christian, who had to, again and again, do a Macmillan-esque lift in which Roxanne went over and around his shoulders to land en pointe. After the balcony scene, it looked like he almost dropped her, and in his final scene his arms were visibly trembling as he held her overhead. For all that Parker had to act and dance, there’s no doubt that Mackay was really, really working hard during this show – perhaps a little beyond his abilities. Still, he was compelling in the role of a simpleton, and I found that, like Roxanne and Cyrano, he too had charmed me before the end of the ballet. Damn these dancers and their mad acting skillz! I’m so used to just watching the dance, since when am I supposed to get caught up in the story?

Really, this was such a fun show, with lots of compelling action on stage (such as the “baguette adagio” in the bakery, and of course the duelling, and the very exciting battle scene), so much so that I never looked at my watch once – well, only to make sure I was coming back on time from intermission. My companions Amy, Alice and J also thought it was great. Doubtlessly there have been ballets in which the choreography was more exciting – I sit here still befuddled about people’s enthusiasm for Mayerling – but David Bintley has created something in which we, as the audience, care about the story and the characters. This, then, is a ballet worth watching – and as it’s on for two more days, I advise you go buy your tickets ASAP and make sure every night has a full house.

(This review is for a performance that took place on Thursday, November 11th, 2009. Cyrano continues at Sadler’s Wells through Saturday, November 13th. If you’re skint, there is a half price ticket deal available, but I recommend paying full price if you can afford it, as Sadler’s Wells is an institution that deserves to be rewarded for consistently bringing great dance talent to London.)

Review – Birmingham Royal Ballet’s “Quantum Leaps” Program – Sadler’s Wells

November 11, 2009

Last night’s Birmingam Royal Ballet “Quantum Leaps” program at Sadlers Wells was a real treat, delivering two knockouts after opening with a bit of a wiffle. “Powder,” a quasi-classical 1998 production featured dancers in jammies (bras and fluffy underskirts for girls, briefs for the men) carvorting to Mozart, opened the night. I found it dry and forgettable.

Far more exciting, and the real reason I’m trying to cram this review in today (so I can encourage perhaps one more person to go), is David Bintley’s “E=MC2,” and, to be perfectly honest, its twin (in terms of newness), Garry Stewart’s “The Centre and its Opposite.” I cheated and didn’t bother reading the program notes for E=MC2 (okay, I was gossiping so much that I didn’t have time), but simply the title was enough to be evocative for me. This is what I experienced, though I can’t guarantee it’s in perfect order as I was too excited to take notes very well:

First scene: the dancers, huddled in a ball under a low-hanging ceiling, have their arms extended a bit, their fingers twisting and turning like a flamenco dancer’s. Light slices across them; their costumes have blazes across their chests that catch the light. It’s like a primeval world; the dancers are like a big … I can’t help but think of an atom or a chunky molecule. The music is utterly modern but good, not too pretentiously atonal, really fresh sounding and exciting. The dancers break apart and shoot off around the stage, swirling around, sometimes bent over at the waist with their arms swinging from side to side, reminding me of the versions of “Rite of Spring” that have a ball of people enacting a ritual in the middle of the stage. A blonde woman and a man get to do a fair amount of duets and solos, and WOW can they move, very fleet of foot, very limber. At some point I realize I have stopped writing about the show in my head because I am completely caught up in the movement.

Second scene: six men, three women, moving together, generally slowly, sometimes doing a momement together, sometimes in sequence. The men handle the women very tenderly. I am amused by the women’s costumes, which remind me of the posters for Raquel Welch’s Two Million BC. I am imagining chemical processes taking place, expressed in the medium of dance.

Third scene: a bright red square in the sky, a woman in a white kimono holding a red fan. A deafening boom (this made me angry as I think it was at hearing damage level). Clear Hiroshima reference, the negatives of the secrets of the atom, the white referring to the Asian death colors. Unfortunately I’ve seen too much good and authentic Japanese dance to like this bit. Just a little more work with an expert choreographer (especially in relation to the movement of the sleeves) could have punched this way up as dance instead of being a pseudo-Oriental pastiche.

Fourth scene: atoms dancing in space! The back of the stage is covered with lights (round incandescent ones), and I can hardly see the dancers because of the glare – they are practically shadows, flitting and hard to focus on. The dancers run back and forth, they are beautiful, they are joyous. I am reminded of little atoms dancing on the surface of the sun – they can’t be concerned about morality, they are just pure existence, flicking electrons to each other, fusing, fissioning (?), arcing away from the glowing surface and back. A second blond woman takes the stage, lithe, quick-stepping, and she is smiling, they are all smiling, and as she catches her partner’s eyes and grins, I think, “My God, they are actually having fun.” And I was, too, utterly caught up in the moment. Who knows if my interpretations reflected the program notes, I was excited enough to see something so rich that it was able to spark all of those connections in my head!

WHEW. I figured after that was over, what really was left? But BRB returned with “The Centre and its Opposite,” another brand new piece. The choreographer (Garry Stewart, must make the effort to see his Australian Dance Theater now) said in his notes that it was about dancers fighting to be the center of attention, and, wow, I could barely decide where to look and I loved it. The whole thing was done to this awesome industrial music and performed against a set with florescent lights standing up in rows on the sides and back of the stage and hovering over the stage in a lowerable wall. If ever there was movement a ballerina or danseur could do to make himself noticed, in this piece they were doing it; legs flipped up to ears, leaps, twisting, flipping, every trick in the book was out. It wasn’t sloppy, though – the movement had focus and made sense. It had the wild electricity of the first time I saw “In The Middle, Somewhat Elevated,” and I wondered, is this what Forsythe would have created if he’d been a newish choreographer now instead of 20 years ago?

Overall, this night ended with two such power packed ballets that I was left gasping for air, my hair kind of standing on end like it did the first time I saw “Chroma” (and the first time I saw Forsythe). I have always thought BRB was a strong dance company, and this evening fully supported my decision to really make an effort to see them each and every opportunity I get. I am truly sorry I can’t go see this performance again, but I do have tickets for Cyrano, which they’re finishing out their turn at Sadler’s Wells; with half priced tickets available, there’s no reason not to go.

(This review is for a performance that took place on Tuesday, November 10th 2009. The final performance of Quantum Leaps will be tonight, Wednesday October 11th. Birmingham Royal Ballet finishes at Sadler’s Wells with performances of “Cyrano,” ending on Saturday November 14th.)