Posts Tagged ‘Liam Scarlett’

Review – Royal Ballet Triple Bill (Asphodel Meadows, Carmen +1) – Royal Opera House

May 16, 2010

On Saturday I did something I’d never done at the ballet before: I deliberately skipped seeing a piece. In fact, I came late so that I could skip said piece. In fact, I changed my tickets from the matinee to the evening show so that I could completely and utterly miss a work I didn’t care for. The object of my disdain? Chris Wheeldon’s “Electric Counterpoint,” which I reviewed when it was new and thought would never be revived again. My dislike of video being used with dance has only increased since then, and there was no way I was going to sit through this torture again. An hour late arrival it was.

What did manage to drag me out of my torpor? The promise of a new ballet (not that I haven’t been burned before, but you gotta support it), but by Liam Scarlett, who’d really impressed me in last year’s outing for New Works at the Linbury. The Royal Ballet had decided to give him the big hall treatment? Excellent! In addition there was a ballet version of Carmen, which though not new was new to me, and as Carmen is my favorite opera and one I thought would hold up well dramatically as a ballet, I was excited about the possibilities.

Scooching into my amphitheater seats (row M, kind of far off to the side but 11 quid was about all I could manage), I wondered what “Asphodel Meadows” would hold. We were shown three main couples, dressed in grey, brown, and rust (or so it seemed), with some five to seven corps couples in a beige so pale they looked washed out. Hmm. The movement was good, to me lacking the complexity of Balanchine but showing an ease at considering how bodies should be balanced in space and time, with some unusual arm movements and a confident use of “the pause” – moments when there was no dancing, and sometimes even no music. I was very much feeling like Scarlett was ready for this move up, though I, unfortunately, as an audience member and writer was not entirely ready for him – I’d forgotten to bring paper to write on. I don’t think I would have had much to say, though – it was good but not amazing, though I’m glad I got to see it – and I think it was worth reviving, far more so than the Wheeldon.

I think it may also be true that my ability to recall this show well was hindered by the evening’s finale, Mats Ek’s Carmen. The whole thing was so over the top that it went into the realm of the hysterically awful I refer to as “the baddicle,” right there with de Fruto’s infamous spectacle at the Sadler’s Wells’ Diaghilev show last fall. I might have been able to make some love in my heart for dancers in metallic fake-flamenco ruffles, but put them in front of a giant, polka-dotted, open-crotched panty set (with some crotch spilling out of it thanks to the lighting design), then drop the dancers on their butts to writhe with their legs spread open … I could buy the Carmen, but I found the dancing comical. Laughter kept breaking out up in the gods, and when at one point one of the nauseating ward of snifflers and coughers keeping us company blew his nose in time to a roll of castanets, I, too, couldn’t help but laugh. And after that it was all just a sad comedy of histrionic dancing (though seriously, Tamara Rojo should learn how to flip a “bata de cola” – I saw five days of flamenco in which not a single person had to use their hands to turn their skirts, and it just looked amateurish). I heard from the Tyro Theatre Critic that this ballet is very popular among some people, and that’s why they keep reviving it: for me, I leapt over the other five people to run for the staircase and the fresh outdoor air before the curtain calls started, because while I couldn’t really blame it on the dancers, I did really, really want to get away from it. The Baddicle comes but once a year, but when you’ve had a visit you always want it to end as soon as possible.

(This review is for the final performance of this set of dances, which took place Saturday, May 15th, at 7 PM. I didn’t show up until 7:55 and yet I felt I got my money’s worth out of the evening. Thank you to the Royal Ballet for making your shows affordable to people at all income levels.)

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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.)

Review – New Works in the Linbury (spring 2008) – Royal Ballet

May 22, 2008

Lured by the promise of seeing a Wayne McGregor piece I hadn’t yet had the fortune to see, I headed down to the Royal Opera House today to check out “New Works in the Linbury.” (Here’s the description of the show: “Monica Mason is delighted that The Royal Ballet are back in the Linbury Studio Theatre presenting a series of world premieres by choreographers from within the Company. Plus, there is an opportunity to see Wayne McGregor’s new short work Nimbus, which was specially commissioned for the World Stage Gala last November.”)

Well, the night is over and I’m not sure when the chance was to see Nimbus. Was it in the lobby before the show started? Was it a special “extra features” at the end of the night, after the dancers had all taken their bows as if it really was all over? Was he really laboring in such obscurity that it was no longer possible to see his stuff on stage? I really have no idea. Thankfully it meant there was also no chance of an unfortunate encounter with Mr. McGregor, in which I would be tearfully ashamed of liking his work so much and yet being no longer capable of speaking to him, but then, surrounded by what I can only assume were British ballet folk, I suddenly felt, well, I really was just a nobody anyway – none of these people were ever going to speak to me of their own will other than to tell me to please let them pass by or kindly stop whispering during the performance. What a change from the software testing conference I went two three weeks ago, when the giants in the field were all most open to speaking about their work and how it might relate to what you personally are experiencing, in a helpful, problem-solving way.

The list of works were as follows: “What If,” choreography Ernst Meisner, danced by Romany Pajdak and Sergei Polunin; “b,” choreography Viacheslav Samodurov, danced by Sarah Lamb and Ivan Putrov; “Of Mozart,” choreography Liam Scarlett, dancers a cast of hundreds (or rather eight); “Agitator,” choreography Matjash Mrozewski, danced by Isabel McMeekan and Thomas Whitehead; “Monument,” choreography Vanessa Fenton, also many dancers; “Stop Me When I’m Stuck,” choreography Jonathan Watkins, danced by Yuhui Choe, Lauren Cuthbertson …. and some more dancers, but I’m trying to avoid carpal tunnel here.

The opening number, as it turns out, was my favorite of the night. “What If” was just … what do they say, luminous? The two dancers were fun, young, athletic, and made me fall in love with them. They were young colts frolicking on stage, and though Romany seemed to not quite smoothly get two of her turns, I couldn’t help but get excited about a future of watching the two of them dance together.

Liam Scarlett’s “Of Mozart,” with a musical choice that couldn’t help but make me think of Mozart’s Journey to Prague, seemed straight out of the school of modern choreography that plays it straight, with lovely, classic costumes (long, toned skirts for the women; shorts and long sleeved, tight-fitting tops for the men); old music; and a dance vocabulary that’s very familiar but throws in occasional bits that show its modernity (feet held at a 90 degree angle; supporting dancers by holding the back of the neck). It even had little bubbly “personality” bits that made me think of Jerome Robbins; most notable was the hand movements (clenching; rotating; opening and closing) during a pizzicato movement. Liam really seems to get what I think modern ballet audiences want, and I expect he’s going to have a pretty successful career as he gets more fully into his stride.

Sadly, I don’t think what he’s producing is what ballet needs. How are we going to get new audiences? Are we going to stick to what’s safe until there are no more people under 65 watching ballet? I started thinking about “Chroma” and how awesome it was and how the choreography was just so blistering fresh at some point in the middle of “Of Mozart” and just couldn’t get my concentration back. The performance I was watching was fine, but it wasn’t pushing myself or the art just one little bit. I felt sad about this and kind of relieved that it was time for intermission.

After intermission the evening restarted with “Agitator.” This also wasn’t a genre-breaking piece, but … my god, could Isabel McMeekan dance. I could not get my eyes of her fantastic legs and her fluid movement from one position to another. (I felt a bit badly for Thomas Whitehead as he didn’t have nearly the opportunity to show off she did.) I felt like it was on the verge of breaking into that really exciting partnering work that Forsythe does, but no luck. That said – it was still pretty damned yummy. I’ll be watching for her in the future.

My last review is for my least favorite piece of the night – “Monument,” which is apparently by a choreographer that was quite popular with the audience. It all started off quite well, with fantastic electronica (“Pathogenic Agent”) by Jens Massel, aka Senking. The full-body, black with orange neon and glittery lines bodysuits were all a little to amusingly Cyberdogs for my taste, but we had black toe shoes to deal with and I was just kind of riding with it, watching the dancers contort themselves, the women’s feet arching in their shoes, the men throwing them over their shoulders, the music sounding really fantastic on the Linbury sound system.

And then it all went south. Maybe I had show fatigue; maybe … it was bad. Suddenly we transitioned into the second movement of Bach’s Violin Concerto in E, and we were staring at a couple on stage. The woman was stiff, her feet as flat as they can get, her eyes staring straight at the sky – and if we weren’t clear that she was dead, the man waved his arms over his head in this Z motion straight out of a Greek play (and, I think, Martha Graham). Good God! Why the obviousness? What happened to what we were watching before? Then it was grief, grieving, oh, the sadness, the other dancers joining in the sadness … and at the very moment I was thinking about what I’d just seen and how cliched it was and how with any luck I’d never see someone making this Z motion with their hands again … all of the dancers were doing it at the same time! AAAAUGH!

I’m afraid at this point I snapped the tether, and then I was looking at things like the bottoms of the pointe shoes (were they black, too?) and the violinist (Tatiana Bysheva, really making a career in classical music look sexy). Eventually it was over, and we got to watch “Stop Me When I’m Stuck,” which I was now too tired to really enjoy but J said reminded him of a dream ballet (it was his favorite bit of the night). There were occasionally some pretty great solos but I had my fill for the evening, and without Wayne, I felt like the evening had a few too many empty calories in it as a whole (despite being filled with utterly gorgeous dancers).

(This review was for a performance on Thursday, May 22, 2008. Reviews of the other pieces may come later.)