Posts Tagged ‘Kim Brandstrup’

Review – Metamorphosis Titian 2012 – Royal Ballet at the Royal Opera House

July 19, 2012

There will be lots of critical words spilled over Monica Mason’s final event at the Royal Opera House, so I’ll save repeating what everyone else will say (oh, a robot! etc.) and stick with my own views. Consider this an editorial, if you will, rather than a proper review. I’m going to build this as a sort of pre-retrospective, judging the show based, not on how innovative it was, but how likely I think it is to stand the test of time.

Act 1, Machina, a.k.a. “the one with the robot.” Unsurprisingly, this was by Wayne McGregor, who for some reason was sharing the reins with Kim Brandstrup and making him try to do choreography around a giant (15 foot tall?) robot with six planes of motion. Coolness: the early scenes with the scrim behind them and a baleful light poking through, with the ambiance of people dying on a dry plain – the kind of place I imagine mythology happening. Bit I hope to see again: pure hunter Carlos Acosta’s duet with lean-like-a-stag Edward Watson. It was totally McGregor and, while that style of angles does not suit Acosta, his muscular style made this moment electric. Also good: Tamara Rojo sliding across Ed’s body in another duet sequence. I vote this is revived in a special place of too hot to handle stage moments that I can treasure in private.

Act 2, Trespass, a.k.a. “the one with the mirror.” The opening scene of the male dancers posing and dancing in a circle was the most homoerotic thing I’d seen since “Canto Vital” at the Carlos and Friends show back in 2009 – a veritable Kirk/Spock slashfest on the stage of the Royal Opera House. Wahoo! I loved the costumes – the men’s had circuit board patterns on the chests and a stripe of color across the upper thighs, making them look rather like naked robots, while the women’s seemed to be patterns of eyes – except for the woman playing Diana (Melissa Hamilton?), who got to look like she was naked. While there was some interesting stuff going on here in terms of people being able to glimpse each other through the mirror (when it was lit a certain way) and the anger of the violated goddess, it didn’t feel like something we were really ever going to see again. Pity, though, as the costuming was great.

Finally we have “the one with the singing,” Diana and Actaeon, also known as “the one with the really busy set.” After so much post modern grey and silver, it was wonderful to have something that was riotously colorful in a Marc Chagall kind of way, with bonus “people in dog costumes” (who carried their heads instead of wearing them, which allowed them to dance much better). While I generally loved what people were wearing in this section, I have to bitch about Chris Ofili’s bizarre choice to put Diana (Marianela Nunez) in orange. HELLO GODDESS OF THE MOON not the sun ORANGE IS NOT RIGHT.

A lot of this ballet was Nunez trying to push Actaeon (Bonelli) away, which I found quite mystifying – how did a hunter EVER get his hands on a goddess? How could there even be a hint of her responding erotically to him? I also found the “hands over boobs and crotch” gestures over used. Fun: the dogs, the other hunting group, Actaeon’s costume turning bloody via costume magic when he’s attacked by the dogs.

So when I re-do this ballet as a one act, it’s going to have the good solos from Machina, the costumes from Trespass, and a mixture of the men’s scenes from Trespass, with the Diana of Actaeon … dressed in blue. Plus the dogs and the male/female hunters, because they rocked. But seriously: while I loved the scope and inventiveness of this evening, I don’t feel that any of this will ever be revived (other than out of pig-headedness) and will certainly never make it into the repertoire of any other company. Except, maybe, for Wayne’s bit, because, while he is a bit of a nerd for the technology, he can sure get dancers to look beautiful on stage, and not just because they’re wearing revealing costumes.

(This review is for a performance that took place on Monday, July 16th, 2012. Its final night is tonight.)


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!)

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 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 – Scottish Ballet’s 40th Anniversary Mixed Rep (Balanchine, Forsythe, Pastor) – Sadlers’ Wells

October 3, 2009

Last night J and I went to see what I consider the start of the fall dance season in London, Scottish Ballet’s visit to Sadlers Wells. Initially I’d written it off because Scottish Ballet is not on my list of “preferred companies” (ROH, Birmingham Royal Ballet and Northern Ballet being the “local” three) and because, let’s be clear, I can live the rest of my life without seeing anything from Balanchine’s Jewels suite again. I saw it at City Ballet, I saw it at Pacific Northwest Ballet, and it just doesn’t do it for me. It’s empty style, sort of showy but still hollow, like a wedding cake with fancy icing but dry cake underneath it. I’d much prefer the more emotional Serenade and Agon, or the fabulously over the top Stars and Stripes, or the just perfect La Valse (God, have I seen enough Balanchine?) to Jewels. HATE HATE HATE. And how about just having some goddamned new ballet anyway? ENOUGH WITH THE BALANCHINE!

Only, well, I looked at the program (as it got closer to the date – nudged by Twitter, I think), and I saw that it did have quite a bit more – it had a piece by my favorite choreographer, William Forsythe, and a piece by a choreographer that I’d never heard of before (Krzysztof Pastor). And then Ballet Bag posted a link to a Rubies pas de deux on Twitter … and I thought, well, you know, that program Scottish Ballet is doing, it actually really has a lot going for it. I should go see them and see what they’re made of – my recollection is that the Balanchine Trust is kind of picky about who it lets do their dances, so chances are that technically they’re pretty good. And it’s the Friday after my first payday at my new job … time to celebrate, and what better way than a night at the ballet! (I realize “lifting pint glasses” would probably be how most people would do it but I know what I like, and it’s enjoying other people’s artistry with all of the attention I can bring to bear.)

When the curtain rose on “Rubies,” my first view of Scottish Ballet was of a very young and very fresh looking company (“fresh” as in “not burnt out from doing 7 shows in 6 days”). I realized they’d performed the night before, but the dancers just seemed remarkably full of energy. Soon Ja Lee, in the solo female role, was positively saucy, smiling and selling the dance for all she was worth. Her movement was sprightly and elastic and (key to Balanchine) effortless, and in the bit where the four men manipulate her legs, she kept smiling and I caught only even a hit of a tremble in her arms. This must, I think, to some extent speak to the strong work of the male dancers, and indeed, all I saw of the Scottish Ballet’s male corps throughout the night, as in this bit they must co-partner with a unification of movement and focus, staying on point as she stays en pointe and yet keeping an awareness of each other. Because my eyes were not focused on them trying to do their jobs, only looking at them occasionally to admire what they were doing, I must say that they were doing great work at creating seamless movement that only assisted in showing off the extravagane of this part of the work – a woman partnered by four men!

I was also utterly fascinated by the male half of the duo, Tama Barry, who was simply the most masculine danseur I have ever seen. With his broad chest and strong thighs, he looked to be a rugby player who could easily have tossed Claire Robertson three times her height into the air. I wondered if such a physique works against a dancer. Would he have the nimbleness of Ed Watson? How was he at propelling his own body through the air? I kept my eyes on him (not unwillingly) for the rest of the night (easily enough as he was in every piece). My conclusion was that he was a great partner – in fact, I felt he really changed the tone of Rubies, making it seem less …. well, it’s perhaps incorrect to call Mr. B either misogynistic or anti-male, but Tama made it seem more gender balanced, with a look and a strength that drew attention to him on stage even when he was partnering. As I watched him through the night, I thought he didn’t leap like I thought he might have been able to, but in some ways I felt that might have reflected more of a choice to not make a spectacle of himself (even though I’ve seen few male dancers throw away an opportunity to show off if it presented itself, still sometimes presenting an even medium in one’s execution of a move is more appropriate for creating the right look for a dance). He seemed fairly fleet-footed, but I wasn’t entirely convinced he was able to get the height and move as fast as I’d expect of the best of male leads. Still, I’d very much like to watch him again, in a role in which he was supposed to go bravura, and see what he’s really made of. He’s certainly got the charisma.

The next piece was my Forsythe, new to Scottish Ballet but in fact from 1996, so already several years old when I first saw “In the Middle, Somewhat Elevated.” I’ve seen some pieces by him in the last two years that were very new, and “Workwithinwork” felt very much like a transitional piece; still on toe shoes, dancers suddenly stopping and standing around on stage doing nothing, the legs lifting high with incredible strength and swiftness, the extravagantly rotating arms. The movements seemed to painfully underline the historicity of the Balanchine; these weren’t done by sad waifs who wanted to look pretty for Mr. B: they showed the burning spirit within that I think must be the thing that keeps ballerinas going, a desire to be brilliant and please themselves, burnished in a punishingly competitive environment.

Newer, though, was the loss of focus on interaction, the ensuing isolation of the dancers on stage (occasionally broken by a pas de deux or a rare group interaction); this fragmentation was also reflected by the music, which had neither beginning nor end but just seemed to be a lot of squeaky violin playing (Berio’s Duetti for two violins, not something I’ll be buying any time soon). Then suddenly there was a duet between a small blonde (Kara McLaughlin?) and a man with dark hair, with music that actually sounded like it had fallen out of some world of structured music … and it was really beautiful. Afterwards I’m afraid I lost the plot a bit and got caught up in trivial details like how tall the female corps really was (they looked about 5 foot on average) and just how transparent the men’s pantyhose-style leggings were (dance belts ahoy!). I blame my exhausting work week in general, as I’d enjoy seeing this piece again, but it really just didn’t have the power of his mid-80s works for me. Ah, well, the movement was gorgeous.

The evening ended with Krzysztof Pastor’s “In Light and Shadow,” rather interesting to see so soon after the Brandstrup/Rojo project two weeks ago. My thought was: “Bach! The composer against which choreographers throw themselves again and again, hoping to at last equal his brilliance – with little success.” This piece also used a big chunk of the Brandenberg concerto, the aria, which was now very familiar to me, and I enjoyed Pastor’s light handling of it more than the tweedling and lack of commitment I saw in Brandstrup. However, the whole piece seemed light – brilliant color in the costuming (really, our favorite bit of the whole work – lovely androgynous things, men in skirts, the grace of the transparent suits the first couple wore, strapped-on corsetty tops and shorts, great!), but the movement not memorable or very interesting. It wasn’t bad, mind you, it was just forgettable, other than a brief bit when the lighting went to just 3 feet high on stage and only the women’s legs could be seen beneath their lifted skirts. Still, it’s always nice to end an evening listening to Bach’s Third Orchestral Suite, and on the whole I’d say that I’d be very happy to watch Scottish Ballet again.

(This review is for a performance that took place on Friday, October 2nd, 2009. The last performance at Sadlers’ Wells was on Saturday the 3rd, and I am sorry if you missed it but they do appear to be on tour so you may have an opportunity to see them again.)


Review – Goldberg – The Brandstrup/Rojo project – Linbury Theater

September 22, 2009

Tonight J and I went to the Linbury to see the much-hyped Tamara Rojo/Brandstrup “Goldberg Project.” I was attracted by the idea of 1) world-class dancers on the 2) intimate (chamber-sized) Linbury stage, with the 3) complete Goldberg variations performed live. It seemed like an opportunity for a lot to go right and, on the whole, it did. There was a sort of through-line – 6 dancers coming into a studio, watching a little TV (I imagined them watching a video of a piece they were going to be performing, as they always played recorded Goldberg during these bits), then dancing, mostly as couples but sometime doing solos or performing as larger groups. The three “characters” were Rojo, who appeared to have fallen out of a relationship with character two, the muscular blond dancer, and was admired from afar by Steve McRae as Mr. Unrequited Page Turner. It could be said either that we were watching a series of rehearsals or the same one repeated over and over again – I voted for the first, my husband for the second interpretation.

While I loved the muscular energy of the male breakdancer (Tommy Franzen) and the kittenish fun of the Rojo/Clara Barbera duet, the dancing between Rojo and Thomas Whitehead told a tale of an almost painful desire to control combined with genuine disdain. Unfortunately, while the Rojo/Whitehead duets had plenty of story and emotion attached, I didn’t find myself so caught up in the choreography. By comparison, McRae’s spare set of solos absolutely blistered (he moves so fast my eyes can’t track him when he spins) and electrified the stage, creating rather an unfortunate contrast with Rojo’s nearly uninterrupted melancholic dancing, which showed technique without creating focus. Blame for this must be laid at the choreographer’s feet; this show needed more flavors and just the zippy backspins of Franzen didn’t do it.

Though I usually say little about sets and lighting (due to space), props to LD Paule Constable for providing the first non-offensive use of animation in a dance production. It started out defining the space of the set (mostly a ladder, a door, a window, and bench seating all on one giant wall), then later served as some extra shadows beside a still man on ladder, returning as rain sliding down a window while cars drove behind, and finally a diagram of what Sad Woman and Unrequited Man ought to do to give the story a happy ending, the two white lines of the moving arrows twining together at the very last. My husband and I gave a sigh; now that was a nice bit of work.

So I hoped for good music, an opportunity to watch some great dancers, and excellent choreography for this evening, and I got two out of three. Overall, I’d say this was a good evening and a fun warmup for the fall season. Next stop: Mayerling!

(This review is for a performance that took place on Tuesday, September 22nd, 2009. Goldberg – The Brandstrup/Rojo project continues through Saturday.)


A message from your sponsor – apologies and upcoming features

April 28, 2008

To regular readers: an apology in advance for the lack of posting you’ll be getting until about May 12th. I spent the last weekend in Barcelona and will be in Florida for a conference for all of next week. That said, this Friday I’ll be off to see home town favorite Dina Martina at the Soho Theater, then catching up for my lost week in Orlando with a fury, hitting the Young Vic for Jane Horrocks in the Good Soul of Szechuan with the West End Whingers, the Royal Ballet in a mixed rep program (new work by Kim Brandstrup, ooh!), then “The Only Girl in the World” and “The Lady from the Sea” at the Arcola Theatre the week of May 12th. I think I may toss in an article on the best places to eat near Covent Garden while I’m in Florida just to keep the flow going on the site, though – I’ve certainly become an expert, at least if you’re dining on a budget.