Posts Tagged ‘Ed Watson’

Review – Mayerling (2009) – Royal Ballet

October 8, 2009

Kenneth Macmillan’s works don’t really hit me right. Thus it took the offer of £20 stalls seats (from the Sun, thanks guys!) to convince me to go see Mayerling at the Royal Opera House. Sure, it was the opening night of the Royal Ballet’s season (yay!) and I have kind of got a thing for your capital R Romantic works (even though this is Victorian, I still felt it shared a lot of the feeling of Doom and Passion that Wuthering Heights did), but fin de siecle Vienna isn’t quite the same thing. But then… £20 seats, Ed Watson as the Prince, and Mara Galeazzi as his death-wish girlfriend? With bonus Sarah Lamb and Steven MacRae? It did seem like there was a good chance of excitement after all.

I will start off with the positives. First, this is a great male dramatic role. Well, actually, no it’s not. Watson was on stage nearly constantly, but he was almost always looking somewhat tortured, though he did alternate that with “mean” and “lustful.” Sadly, the expression of “character” served to frequently mar the dancing – too much dragging his feet around, a sad lack of lovely leaps. His ability to partner and flip women in the air was astounding, but in the nuptial night scene with his hated bride (played by Iohna Loots), I found myself tiring of the constant twists in the air and flips over his shoulder, etc, etc. I consider the skillful creation of these moves to be a hallmark of MacMillans choreography, but so many of them packed together and in such a negative context created no pleasure in my eyes, merely a desire for the scene to be over and something else to happen.

The next positive is the fab start to act 2, a scene “set in a seedy club.” I loved the plumed hat-wearing can-can type girls, with their lacy pantaloons and trampish ways; it made for a lively change from the wretched end of the previous act (and it’s always kind of fun to see ballerinas putting on the tart). However, the dance of the prince’s mistress, Mitzi Caspar, was dull (if nicely executed by Laura Morera). I did enjoy the dance done by the male corps and the prince; it was a good chance for the Royal Ballet men to strut their stuff (and I feel that too often big “corps” dances are all women or couples; just men is a treat).

The act ended on a fun note with the bedroom scene between Mary Vetsera and the Prince. Vetsera was a great Bonnie to the prince’s syphillitic Clyde; her passion for his skull and handgun showed that, as far as being nuts went, she matched him pecan for pecan. His weird, frantic, lustful dancing was managed far easier with her than with poor, virginal Princess Stephanie; they very much seemed in tune with each other’s dementia.

I’ll interrupt the narrative to bring up my third positive, which was the great costumes. From the Victorian Hapsburg court to the gartered dance hall demoiselles, I found myself again and again distracted by having so much to look at on stage – a feature that would probably discourage other companies from mounting this show. However, I’d suspect the real reason they won’t mount it is the same reason I left after act two; it just isn’t really that good. I couldn’t get emotionally committed to the characters and the choreography wasn’t interesting enough to make me want to put up with the grim reality of what a 10:30 end time would mean to my ability to function at work the next day. And if that’s how I feel, how would it go over in Omaha? I really want to see more new story ballets, but this modern one (1978) just leaves me dry. Why the Royal Ballet has done this over a hundred times is a complete mystery to me. At least now I know that even from the fourth row, there’s no point in my bothering to see Mayerling.

(This review is for a performance that took place on Wednesday October 7th, 2009. It continues through November 10th and will doubtlessly be revived over and over again, which will give me more excuses to patronize Sadlers Wells. As near as I can tell I’m the only person who didn’t like this ballet but, you know, there always has to be one of us.)

Review – Giselle – Royal Ballet at the Royal Opera House

May 15, 2009

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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