Posts Tagged ‘Kenneth Macmillan’

Review – Triple Bill (Limen, Marguerite and Armand, Requiem) – Royal Ballet at Royal Opera House

October 9, 2011

It’s been two years since I first saw Limen, and the newness of it has worn off well enough for me to appreciate it more structurally. Saturday afternoon I was amazed by the lighting much more – the opening, with the animated, digital clock-font glowing numbers floating around on a scrim while dancers stepped into the numbers and then disappeared into the darkness just a foot or two away from the screen … the very cool white box of light that had the dancers in a negative space in the middle … the colored lights that at one point made a box border that matched the dancers’ shirts (crayon primaries) and then later sliced straight across the stage (in a recreation of the Mount Olympus scene from Xanadu – am I the only one who saw that?) … then the final scene with the great blackness at the back of the stage with little blue lights flickering around it that the dancers all eventually went to stand in front of, completely disappearing in the gloom. It all seemed a metaphor for how we have such brief moments of life and then it’s snuffed out. And yet … the one thing in this ballet that just really kills me is the Yin Yang duet Sarah Lamb and Eric Underwood perform just past the halfway point. He is pure power, she is tiny and (seemingly) fragile, and he moves her with the grace and strength that I think is one of the mind blowing things about sex, that two humans who could be destroying each other instead are so careful and vulnerable together. It’s a pas de deux that makes you hold your breath and I feel lucky I was able to see it again with the originators of the roles.

No such luck with Marguerite and Armand, but given that Fonteyn and Nureyev were performing it until the late 70s, I almost could have (if I’d been living in England thirty years ago). But it was wonderful to have it be my debut as an audience member, with Rojo and Polunin instead, letting me revel in thirty minutes of unfiltered Ashtonian sap. Now, I am not a fan of Traviata (based on the same story, Dumas’ La Dame aux Camelias), as I don’t care for heroes or heroines who are willing to let social norms dictate their actions. Yet somehow as a ballet, with so much of the irritating moral conflicts stripped away, the story moved on to a higher plan of abstracted feelings; love, longing, betrayal, duty, rejection, regret. Ashton wrote the emotions and relationships wonderfully through movement; Marguerite’s weakness captured by Armand lifting her using his legs; her heart and body broken as she shuffles offstage in toe-dragging pointe. I still wanted to hit Armand at the end for not being able to forgive Marguerite (for what I am still not sure; something about a necklace) in time to be able to enjoy what little of her life there was going to be for them to spend together; why must people dwell on the faults of those they love while they live only to suffer so much regret when they die – when a little less rigidity could have led to such a different outcome? Ah well, midway into my forties I see Armand’s pigheaddishness is just as contemporary as ever. Women may not be dying of consumption like they used to but oh, it was just a lovely little thing, this ballet was.

This brought us to the third ballet of the afternoon, Macmillan’s Requiem, something I’ve been interested in seeing because of its place in his ouvre both as a critical one-act and as a historical moment as a choreographer’s tribute to his mentor. What does a ballet constructed of pure grief look like? At the start, as the white-clad dancers paraded, hunched over, on stage, it looked a whole lot like Ashton’s Rite of Spring; there was even a body being carried aloft by the crowd. But then, as we listened to the just beautiful choral work (Fauré’s “Requiem”), I realized … we were watching pretty little angels being carried around on stage! The message was, “Don’t be sad! They’ve moved on to a better place and we’ll get to see them again.” Maybe that’s what the dancers of the Stuttgart ballet needed to hear but I found it just as candy-coated as the ribbon dance in La Fille mal Gardee. Grr. More grief! Ah well, it wasn’t badly danced, the music was very good, but my heart was not touched.

(This review is for the matinee performance of Saturday, October 8th, 2011. This triple bill continues through October 20th and like all of the Royal Ballet’s triple bills is a spectacular bargain. I highly encourage you to attend.)

Mini-review – Royal Ballet – Mixed Rep: La Valse / Invitus Invitam / Winter Dreams / Theme and Variations

October 25, 2010

To my delight, my season at the Royal Ballet opened with not a triple bill, but a previously not-experience “quadruple bill,” with the ever-mysterious “new work” forming the star at the apex of the crown. Ooh ooh! What ever would we get to see? In this case it was a new Brandstrup, which I had hopes for, and a Balanchine, woo hoo! Then there was … duh duh DUUUUUUHM! … a long MacMillan. Damn. I had just swore him off forever after seeing Birmingham Royal Ballet’s Romeo and Juliet, but I had to stick through it to get to the Balanchine. Damn, damn and damn.

Fortunately the night got off to a sparkling start with Ashton’s La Valse. I was fascinated by the music – not some cheesy Strauss stuff (I’ve had a lifetime’s worth courtesy of Paradise Found) but Ravel, pulling us into the music with a bunch of dissonant noise, as if all was not right with the world. The dancers, men in formal wear and women in fluffy, mid-calf dresses in varying pastels, looked straight out of a 1950s girl’s bedroom (my companion described it as “looking like a perfume ad”). The dancing didn’t knock my socks off, but the coordinated movement was lovely to watch, though … truth be told … the coordination was a bit off. I got a sudden whiff of “oh, so this is the Royal Ballet B cast,” but, still, I got a guilty pleasure out of it. It even wound up to a sort of “Masque of the Red Death” like fury at the end as the music got all dissonant again, and I felt RAH yes, good start to the night.

Then we moved into “Invitus Invitam,” the new work by Kim Brandstrup. This has got to go down as the best use of projections I’ve ever seen on stage: they were used to change a flat wall into a brick one, show the movement of the dancers as planned out on a computer program (I think), give us titles to the various movements, and (in the one naff bit) show the shadow of someone running offstage. We were led into it very gently, with the lights still up and people guiding set pieces onto the stage while the orchestra tootled a bit … then the two people directing the set pieces started acting like dancers trying to figure out a bit of movement … then the lights went down and we were suddenly sure that yes, this was the ballet happening. Then suddenly we had dressed up dancers, a man and a woman (Christina Arestis and Bennet Gartside, I believe – though the man did look like Ed Watson so maybe it was Leanne Benjamin) in court dress, moving around in ways I found … well, not emotionally engaging. He appeared to be trying to entice or seduce her, she appeared to be holding out – and then the man would run away, and the woman would look bereft. Then the lights would change dramatically, and the stage manager looking couple would come back on. In the final movement, it was the man who was left alone and the woman who ran away … and though it was an intelligent piece and pretty to watch, I’m afraid it just left me a bit dry. Still, my enthusiasm for the evening had not waned.

But … next up was the medicine to accompany the sugar: a 53 minute long MACMILLAN piece based on … wait for it … CHEKHOV. His play Three Sisters was the first Russian play I ever saw, and the theme of whinging people doing nothing to fix their lives, of the pathetic passivity of the bourgeoisie, left me dead inside. I had some hopes that the “music by Tchaikovsky” bit would rescue it … but no. It dragged. And dragged. The audience coughed, they dropped things, the man next to me checked the time on his phone FIVE TIMES, time stopped. The men were generally dancing quite well in a way I do see as typical of MacMillan, but … well, there was one beautiful bit: a duet between Vershinin (Thiago Soares) and Masha (Sarah Lamb) as he decides to leave her. It had the power of the little excerpts you often see in galas, of all of the heart and passion of the entire thing wrapped up in one little perfect bit of dance; and I hope some day I will see this in a gala. Shortly thereafter, two soldiers met for a duel. One of them was shot and died. My thought: “The lucky bastard. I have to wait until this is over before I get to leave.”

Still, I was more than eager to come back for the last bit, “Theme and Variations,” and what a lovely little meringue it was. To be honest, I think the corps dancers were continuing to be sloppy, but I was unwilling to let that detract from my overall enjoyment. It’s kind of embarassing, really, that I was just reveling in all of the shiny tutus and glittering tiaras and all of the utterly most shallow stuff about ballet, and enjoying the movement and just kind of letting myself go. I hadn’t brought my notebook because I really just wanted to be in the moment, and I was, and while Ibi and I both agreed the dancing was not as good as it should have been, still, we left the evening happy and satisfied and looking forward very much to our next ballet excursion, when, with luck, we will finally pick the A cast and get what we are really hoping for: perfection, without any gloomy, bum-numbing MacMillan to take the fun away.

(This review is for a performance that took place on Friday, October 22nd, 2010. The final performances are October 28th and 30th, and I highly recommend you book for this really solid night of dance. Even Clement Crisp loved it, it had to be good!)

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

March 26, 2010

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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.)