Posts Tagged ‘Jonathan Watkins’

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 – New Works in the Linbury (spring 2009) – Linbury Studio

May 14, 2009

Tonight J and I went to the first evening of this spring’s “New Work in the Linbury.” I’ve been before and found this a great way to see fresh work performed by excellent dancers. It’s an intimate environment and a good opportunity to see who might be (and who might deserve to be) getting their choreography done on a larger scale. It’s also a real chance to see the dancers shine, including some whom might not have had much in the way of star turns in the big house. Tonight’s show had seven pieces on the program, and while I realized there was little chance of them all being excellent, I expected at least one or two would be – and I was not disappointed.

As most of these pieces won’t likely be performed again, I’m going to do a little bit of the “historical record” thing and try to say something about every piece. The first, “Dear Norman,” was a tribute by Christopher Hampson to the late choreographer Norman Morrice. It was a lovely piece showing two men dancing, apparently in front of a studio mirror. One of them, Johan Kobborg, acted the role of a choreographer, aiding and assisting “the dancer” (Sergei Pollunin, graceful and gorgeous) as he attempted to learn a part, both of them watching themselves and the other at all times in the mirror along the fourth wall. Kobborg nudged him this way, mimed the moves he wanted the dancer to perform in full, and danced along with him (less extravagantly) as they caught the full flavor of the dance. What I enjoyed about this piece was how well it showed men performing, not as competitors or lovers, but as equals and as friends. They were incredibly supportive of each other. Kobborg seemed impish, while Polunin was firey as he spun in the air at an angle that seemed impossible without computer assistance.

Next up was “Recordato,” a strangely violent set of dances done to music of Michael England. The center couple was, I believe Mara Galeazzi and … er, not sure about the guy (and no pictures in the program to help). He seemed to be lifting her up like she was a little doll and setting her where he would. She would prettily point her feet and land nicely, but it seemed very much like she’d like to escape him, but then he’d grab her and put here where he wanted her to be. The pas de six at the end was quite nice but J’s comment that he felt the whole thing had heavy overtones of domestic abuse, what with (as he saw it) mimed hitting and kicking, kind of overwrote my own memories of it, so now I see it as being about controlling relationships rather than anything else.

The first half’s highlight was next, the brilliant and highly remountable “Les Lutins,” featuring live and luscious virtuoso violin music of Wieniawski (“Caprice”) and Bazzini’s “La Ronde des Lutins” (The Goblins’ Dance). It started with the violinist and pianist in front of and to the side but level with the stage, launching into the Caprice while Steven McRae just set the stage on fire with the most incredible light and fast footwork and leaps, perfectly catching the zest of the music. He aimed himself toward and very much addressed the violinist, and the steps he danced were some of the most pure interpretations of music I’ve seen in ages – not about telling any story to the audience but rather about how the music felt, him responding as a dancer to just what the violinist was doing. I loved it.

And then it got better as Sergei Polunin returned to the stage! Suddenly it was competition – steps danced faster, leaps higher, an occasional mimed kick, a final “neenur” as Polinin did a flip in the air (all to the music). No longer were McRae’s eyes on the violinist (Charlie Siem) – he had someone else to deal with.

And then, sliding in back to the audience, a curvy pair of hips in another pair of high pants held up by suspenders – and clearly, it was a girl! Alina Cojocaru was so perfectly gamine, flirting first with one man than the other, as they fought over her and danced with her and then … lost her to the violinist, who was going completely over the top with a bunch of at-the-very-top-of-the-range notes played with some skittering bow work – of course he was the man with the most going for him! I just loved it all and I hope sometime I can see this again – watching dancers duel like that is a real treat, and the music was amazing, too.

The first act ended with “Yes, We Did,” which per the program was “inspirted by an event which saw the collective power of today’s American citizens change the course of history.” Bit intimidating, really! And it had every possibility of being really bad – a lot of time dance I see that’s inspired by politics tends to flounder. It stared with what I think was a John McCain type performing some kind of stiff dance, joined by a Sarah Palin-esque woman in a French twist and glasses, who seemed to be trying to steal the stage from him. Fanfare for the common man played while a bunch of people moved around … er, going to rallies? One of them was dressed in an American flag, which kind of gave me the creeps – I haven’t seen it used in a positive context in the last three years or so. Then one guy came forward while the other eight or so dancers turned their backs to the audience and changed clothes, and then suddenly they were all wearing Obama shirts and kind of dancing along to the words of his post-election speech. And, um, I’m embarrassed to say I found it all a bit moving, even though they ended with their hearts over their hands as if they were doing the pledge of allegiance. The Obama election was to me the end of an eight year nightmare, and while I realize he will doubtlessly let me down yet, still, to hear the beautiful voice of a person I can call my president without cringing is still a pleasure to me, and I am still so proud of my country for electing a non-white guy to the highest office in the country. I’d best not go on about it much more but it meant a lot to me to see that other people thought it was a great moment in history, too. Thanks for the props, Kristen McNally, this American really enjoyed the tip of your hat.

After the intermission, the next up was “Now.” The music was a string quartet playing Alexander Bălănescu, which was very good, but what I liked the most about it was watching Yuhui Choe utterly take charge of her solos. After watching a ballerina struggle to stay balanced while partnered the night before in Giselle, Choe’s rock-solid sense of balance – and grace – was a treat. It was also great to see Steven McRae back on stage – where did he find the energy! – so shortly after “Les Lutins” and still setting the place on fire.

“Non-linear Interactions” didn’t have a lot of promise based on the description in the program. A work about randomness and the way strangers sort of “pass in the night,” sometimes affecting each other and sometimes not? It sounded like it wasn’t likely to be too coherent, and it wasn’t. There were some really interesting moments in which the dancers utterly froze on stage. Twice this was Mara Galeazzi, standing in the middle of it all and taking a huge, audible gasp, stopping the action, the third time when a man was show “mid leap” (or fall), suspended from the side of the stage by an invisible hand. This led to a moment in which the dancer in question seemed to be surprised by how everything had come to a halt around them, and perhaps was reflecting on their essential aloneness in the world, but unfortunately the rest of the piece wasn’t really able to support that thought. The very end was a big group scene with a bunch of movement that, I swear to God, made it look like they were flickering – the dancers’ arms and legs turning and arcing so quickly that they were catching the light in a bizarre way that almost felt like an ultra-high strobe was on (I checked with my husband, who’s a lighting designer, and he said he could see this effect, too). For me, combined with the occasional moments when the dancers moved very slowly, it seemed like the finale was showing how at times it seems like you’re rushing through life, while at other times things nearly grind to a halt. But … well, overall I wasn’t particularly caught up in the movement at all.

These feelings were swept away with the final piece, Liam Scarlett’s “Consolations and Liebestraum.” I’d seen his choreography before at last year’s New Work and saw all the hallmarks of a promising career buding on the tree. Tonight, I saw it bloom. I have to give him props for the choice of music – Liszt makes for lovely dancing – and his choice of how to set up the performance, as a series of pas de deux. These allow for really emotionally powerful performances, and, by golly, at the end of the second couple’s set, when the man (Bennet Gartside?) reached out from where he stood hidden (from the audience) by his partner and very carefully and, to my eyes, lovingly wrapped his arm around her waist, I got sniffly. The choreography generally was showing off the women in a variety of lifts and such, not really allowing the men to show off their stuff per se (like “Les Lutins” did), but what it did show was the men working as fantastic partners, though in the third bit (I think – must recheck notes tonight) there was a bit of a fumble that made me about go, “Eek! Dancer down!” – fortunately caught and recovered and the dancers carried on without loss of nerve or verve. Whew!

The piece opened with a woman on stage, kneeling, possibly praying. It was followed by a duet with a woman with braided hair and a very conservative, long (Amish looking) dress on, with a high collar, long sleeves and a full skirt. The second couple was a woman in a sleeveless top and a shorter, stiffer skirt – my thought is that the first couple was representing young love, and the second couple more of a mature love. The final couple was a bit of an enigma to me. The first woman had returned and seemed to be angry at the man she was dancing at, pushing him away, looking at the ground. Maybe she was hurt? He showed nothing but care for her, and my final interpretation, as he walked away and she finally turned and looked back at him, was that she was being visited by the ghost of someone she loved, possibly her son or her husband, someone who had had to leave her but didn’t want to do so and still loved her to bits. It was really just a great ending to the evening.

Overall, this is a night of dance well worth the effort to see, and if you have the chance to go, my advice is snap a ticket up right away and get down to the opera house. With so much good work and great dancing on show, it’s probably going to stand out as one of the highlights of the dance year for me.

(This review is for a performance that took place on Thursday, May 14th. New Works in the Linbury continues through Saturday, May 16th. An alternative review is available on BalletBag’s blog, while Clement Crisp shows me how it’s done in the Financial Times, teaching me the phrase “en garcon” and making me think that I must learn to identify the thing called a “triple tour.” Sometimes it’s horrible trying to write critiques when I have never had anyone else to talk to about ballet and can only explain it in my horrible, fannish amateur way; on the other hand, I hope I make my enthusiasm and reasons for such enthusiasm clear enough that whoever reads my reviews can see than anyone can go to a ballet and appreciate it without having to have been trained to do so.)