Posts Tagged ‘Laura Morera’

Review – Cinderella – Royal Ballet at the Royal Opera House

April 11, 2010

Boaters have their annual opening day, but ballet and opera fans have one of their own: first day of sale for the general public for the season at the Royal Opera House. It’s a bit of a madhouse, with the ROH computers inevitably maxing out their capacity and the lucky ones merely having a sign on the computer saying “You are 1263rd in line. This page will continue to refresh. You are 1239th in line. This page will continue to refresh,” while you sit there going completely crazy imagining everyone is stealing all of the good seats while you are stuck in the ROH equivalent of purgatory, waiting for that magic moment when the page finally refreshes to show the normal calendar. It’s particularly maddening because most of the other pages on the ROH website are blanked out at the same time, so you can’t see any details about the various performances that are for sale so that you can prepare yourself (if you haven’t already done so, possibly with a paper copy of the season schedule): what will you want to buy when your time finally comes?

For me the whole thing becomes like one of those contests involving mad dashes through a grocery store, tossing as many things in your basket as you can before the time runs out and your golden opportunity is lost. When my number came up for the spring season, the “meat” aisle for me was “35 quid main floor tickets for Royal Ballet Triple Bill featuring Wayne Macgregor!” But then I still had some time left, and I went and poked around the rest of the season to see what the Royal Ballet had on offer. “La Fille Mal Gardee?” It looked (and was) cute. “Cinderella?” I’d never seen it before, and look, the first performance was on a Saturday, at 12:30, making it cheaper and easier to attend than a weeknight performance. In the basket it went, and off to the ballet I went yesterday, freshly back from my Easter travels and basically utterly ignorant of what I was going to see.

My faith was well rewarded. We started with a beautiful score by Prokofiev – I’d never heard it, although I like his music quite a lot, and as we settled down into our “normal” amphitheater seats (slightly blocked view, little leg room, great price), I caught the gorgeous, skilled notes of one of the three masters of ballet music composition. The choreography was by Frederick Ashton, one of the two men whose style is a touch point of the entire Royal Ballet style and repertoire, but someone whose work I am still just learning about. I knew as an “Ashton,” this meant it was likely to be rather old feeling (at least 40 years), and that the costumes might be just a wee bit on the dusty side, but my guess was that it was all going to feel very classical and “just right,” exactly what you want for a story ballet.

The setup itself is a bit different than the Cinderella I have in my head (which nowadays is a thin pastiche of the old fairly tale over a thick chunk of Disney, the whole thing wrapped in a ribbon of English Panto). We open with Cinderella (Alina Cojocaru) in front of her fireplace, stepsisters (Luke Heydon, Wayne Sleep) sitting nearby acting crudely, with no stepmother in sight (I thought the taller one was the mother based on how familiar she was with Mr. Ella, but per the program it was just the sisters), and a loving but witless father (Christopher Saunders) who couldn’t seem to stop his daughters from spending what little is left of his fortune. A noticeably missing character is the “evil” stepmother; her absence means there was a lot less drama and unhappiness in this version (and certainly no chopping off of toes like in the Lyric Hammersmith’s rather too faithful play). Indeed, with the gawky, cross-gender sisters, this version seemed to very much lean toward the Panto tradition, with lots of hamming, clumsy goofball dancing bits involving the Uglies, and jokes (in pantomime) about how ugly they actually are – plus the requisite stunningly heinous dresses. I’m glad I’ve been to enough Panto to “get” them; my guess is that for non-English audiences, the production’s emphasis on these two characters might have been confusing.

But we also had lots of ballet fun, especially in the drawn-out scene in which Cinder’s fairy godmother (Laura Morera) whisked her away to the “land of the fairies” (not a scene I remember from any other version!), where four fairies representing four different seasons do lovely little dances capturing the spirit of their seasons, with a cute boy and girl in appropriate costume accompanying them (reminding me of 18th century English country paintings); award for most brilliant costume had to go to icicle-gauntleted Winter (Hikaru Kobayashi), whose entrance in a cloud of smoke was truly dramatic. That said, Cinderella’s transformation was a little less than wow, and the pumpkin just seemed to be begging for Robert Wilson to get a hold of it (in fact I propose he design ROH’s new version of it in another 3 years – this one is due for a face lift) even though the pretty boy-drawn carriage that showed up to carry her away did seem most ethereal.

Then we’ve got the fun of act 2, set at court where the jester (Paul Kay) makes more of an impression than anyone else; our prince (Rupert Pennefather) winds up feeling a bit of a cipher next to him, especially with the Uglies parading around with two mismatched “suitors” (Gary Avis, Michael Stojko) in a rather heavy-handed scene I felt tired out its welcome long before it left. (The same sort of gag was done much less painfully in “Elite Syncopations.”) Cinders finally shows up, the prince falls in love, they dance, it’s midnight, we duck out for some ice cream, and in two shakes of a lamb’s tail (and 25 minutes of interval) the star-spangled toe shoe is reunited with its owner (who has to hurry off stage to actually get some tied on properly) and BANG it’s over. Two intervals, 3:10 running time, WHOOSH it’s done before you know it!

I’m afraid to say that throughout most of this ballet, I was having such a good time and being so enchanted by the show that I just utterly forgot to put my reviewer hat on and took no notes whatsoever of the performance (other than to tell myself that I must learn more proper ballet terms so I can discuss things properly with Those In The Know). Alina Cojocaru was just sweet and breathless (and apparently weightless) as Cinderella, reminding me of how incredibly spoiled I am to be able to expect such excellence in both dancing and characterization simply by virtue of having bought a ticket for this great company. Rupert Pennefeather, well, he doesn’t even show up until Act II, does he, and he doesn’t have too much to do – I don’t think the prince’s choreography was nearly as excellent as it could have been (I never had the “wow” feeling I did today while watching a selection from Don Quixote), but he carried the role well. And, damn, if there’s ever a ballet that makes little girls wish they could be ballerinas, it would be Cinderella, and with this score I have to say, it made me glad to live in a city where such riches at these are forever at my doorstop. A most excellent afternoon and highly recommended.

(This review is for a performance that took place on Saturday, April 10th, 2010. It continues through June 5th. Remember, ballet doesn’t have to be expensive; my amphitheater seats were great, though I was so distracted by the costumes I found myself wishing I was sitting much closer. For another view, please see The Arts Desk.)

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 – 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.)

Review – Mixed Bill (Les Sylphides, Sensorium, The Firebird) – Royal Ballet at the Royal Opera House

May 5, 2009

Last night I hustled off of a southbound train and dashed to the ROH for a triple bill that included the debut of a new work. I love seeing new stuff; it’s the dance equivalent of a new life being brought into the world. The program itself was the typical mix of “don’t scare ’em off” stuff that usually comes with a new piece, in this case Les Sylphides (one of the all time classic, old school white ballets) and The Firebird (which I love and had seen for a second time this fall at Sadler’s Wells), with the new piece as the filling to this sandwich. Fortunately with such solid “bread” I was easily able to convince two more people to come with, so it was C, J, W and myself filling our upper balcony seats.

When I’d booked the tickets, the title of the new work wasn’t known, but with the cast list clenched in my hands, I saw that I was to see “Sensorium,” by Alastair Marriott, a choreographer I hadn’t heard of before. (Apparently he used to be an ROH dancer.) The music was to be by Debussy, and tonight was the premiere. What luck! But first we had Les Sylphides, a dance I had never seen before – well, I think: I might have seen the Trockaderos performing it over fifteen years ago! The music was extremely familiar, but I guess it being Chopin means it’s not exactly obscure. Unfortunately the vestigal memories of the Trocaderos made it a bit hard to get comfortable with the ballet’s extremely traditional aesthetic, which was seeming at times a bit too precious and dying to have a man on toe shoes stomping through it. Still, it was lovely to watch and gorgeous to listen to, but a review can pretty much only say, “It was Les Sylphides done well” – I don’t feel like there’s any more to add to it than that. It’s a big pack of girls in fluffy white skirts and little wings posing and dancing – though watching one dancer doing a move that required her to step on her foot, then somehow spring backwards onto her toe, then down again, then up, moving slowly backwards on the stage, made me think that ballerinas are all just incredibly brave to be able to do something that looked so incredibly painful with an expression on her face that was all beauty and grace. Unfortunately I can’t credit the dancer, but the Valse was danced by Laura Morera, the woman’s Mazurka was performed by Lauren Cuthbertson, and the Prelude was Yuhui Choe – any clues to the proper movement would be welcome.

This confusion reminds me: I really wish I could afford floor seats. In Seattle, I knew the Pacific Northwest Ballet dancers by name all the way to the corps, but here, I don’t even recognize most of the principals after two years. It’s depressing. Maybe remembering to bring my binoculars more will help.

Next was Sensorium. The curtain came up on a stage with a big beige metal swirl backdrop and a bunch of circular spotlights (which at different times would get larger and then smaller) on a cast of aqua and cream clad dancers. It was … not very exciting, and difficult for me to describe it. There was some interesting partnering going on, and while at the beginning I thought I saw traces of William Forsythe, his raw energy wasn’t present. Instead, a man would place a dancer, whom he’d held over his shoulder with her head below her hips then rotated over his body, so that her feet very carefully hit a spot under his bent legs. There was a lot of this very geometrical movement of dancers, but it didn’t seem to have real fire. The corps were fun to watch – I noted that their spins (of many sorts) actually made them look airier than the fairies of the previous dance, though sometimes their movement was not smooth. Overall, my feeling is that this was not a success, and will probably be revived at most once more before being retired. That said, the Debussy music was delicious and actually formed a nice pair with the Stravinsky that followed.

Firebird … it’s hard to talk about this one much when it was so very much the same staging (Fokine’s choreography, Natalia Gontcharova designs) I saw the Birmingham Royal Ballet perform twice in the last two years, though the set looked quite a bit cheaper (especially the apple tree). Mara Galeazzi was a strong and lovely Firebird, Thiago Soares a fairly appropriate Tsavevich with rather not much dancing to do other than partnering Ms. Galeazzi. But there was a panic and otherworldliness missing from her performance that I’d come to love with BRB. Also, the apple-tossing scene with enchanted princesses wasn’t as tight as it should have been – I supposed most ballerinas don’t spend a lot of time playing catch, but when the balls soar perfectly in time to the music it’s a magical experience. While the costumes overall were in keeping with the original design (I would guess), with the strange African and Hopi flavors in the various monsters of the middle section (in which the Tsar fights for his life with the Immortal Kostchei), the final scene just fell completely flat.. It’s a kind of a pageant, in which Ivan Tsarevich and The Beautiful Tsarevna are crowned and receive honors from their subjects (for freeing them from enchantment, I assume) – but, whereas for Birmingham Royal Ballet, this scene had so much gold and pizazz that it looked like a Gustav Klimt painting come to life, the Royal Ballet’s production looked instead like it were modeled after a deck of playing cards that didn’t come to life at all. It was a bit of a letdown that this performance, which could end on such a high note, instead squeaked out like a balloon losing its helium.

Overall, this evening was pleasant enough, but failed to catch fire. Still, it reminded me that I need to see more ballet, and that I’m lucky to have such a great ballet company in town and funded well enough to do original productions several times a year. If I suddenly became rich, you know this is how I’d be leaving my name on the world – adding to the permanent supply of beauty with another lovely ballet.

(This review is for a performance that took place on Monday, May 4th, 2009.)