Posts Tagged ‘Linbury Studio’

Review – The Trial – Phillip Glass and Music Theatre Wales at Royal Opera House

October 15, 2014

I’m not a big opera fan, but I do really enjoy the music of Phillip Glass. So when I heard that his new opera … based on Franz Kafka’s classic novellette The Trial … was going to be at the small space at the Royal Opera House … well, it was a match made in heaven.

I wasn’t the only one to think that a dystopic cult novel and the American master of minimalism were the hottest opera ticket this fall … the production was sold out two months before it opened (and with stalls seats going for the fantastic price of £45, I say rightly so!). Fortunately it’s touring through November 10th so there are other chances to see it … Manchester, Cardiff, and Oxford being just a few of the venues that will host it. Now, the devoted will know that with the Royal Opera House, there are almost always a few returns on the day, so if you’re reading this in hope of getting a ticket to the London production, keep that browser open – it refreshes regularly and suddenly “SOLD OUT” becomes “BUY” … and there I was with two seats in row H in the stalls. Awesome!

So now that I’ve been, the question is: was it worth the bother? Did it meet the hype? Was it any good? I’m pleased to say, yes! (But I must caveat that this production hovered at the two hour mark …a fact which raised its value in my eyes.) Everything was stylized, with a stripped down set (iron frame bed, chairs, and table; eggshell walls broken only by seams of light and window-sized gaps), a monotone palette (that extended to the women’s hair), and a movement style that called to mind silent movies. A sense of claustrophobia was enhanced by the performers staying on the set or peeking in the windows when they weren’t part of a scene; you could never forget that Josef K was constantly being watched. And Glass’ music built like a storm surge, the pressure rising relentlessly as the trap slowly closed around our incredulous mouse. Innocence or guilt were not in question: there was simply no way to escape the conclusion of this bureaucratic machine.

Johnny Hereford was a wonderful Josef K; initially arrogant and unbelieving, at times passionate, finally resigned. All of the other performers were at least double cast and disguised well enough to move the story along despite it occasionally being clear we were watching the same person. But the narrative ruled the day, helped greatly by being performed in English. I was pulled in, and without a language barrier between myself and the sung word, the story became my world. It’s the best time I’ve had at the opera in years and I hope the rest of the performances meet with as much success as this run, in the deliciously intimate Linbury.

(This review is for a performance that took place on Tuesday, October 15, 2014. It continues at the Linbury until October 18th, then goes on tour.)


Review – Will Tucket’s “Pleasure’s Progress” – Linbury Studio

September 22, 2010

I went to Pinocchio, I went to Fairies, and yet still I came marching back to the Linbury for Will Tuckett’s latest, “Pleasure’s Progress.” I was tempted by 1) new work 2) salacious topic 3) short running time. At worst, by the time I hated it, it would all be over, and then I’d probably have something raunchy to distract me, right?

Gah I was wrong in so many ways. First, the running time (90 minutes), was longer than I thought, though it wouldn’t have mattered if I’d been enjoying myself rather than staring longingly at the people who snuck out early; instead, I was wondering just how long they could drag this damned thing out. Second, rather than being raunchy, this was just crude, with a masturbating monkey, people constantly feeling themselves up, puerile jokes a la people running together sales pitches for candy and almonds so they could say,”Lick!” “My nuts!” (and “finger” “my muff,” don’t ask), and so on. There was an extended story about a whore, starting from her arrival in London to her death of pox at 23, but it failed to be juicy … just sad. (A series of extended jokes about an impotent man did at least hit the comedy note.)

And oh the choreography. Tuckett’s movement, again and again, just looked like an accident, like the people on stage were about to bump into each other and tried to make it look good. Every now and again I noticed some fairly complex grouping that showed the maker’s hand; but none of these things felt like dance. I do not understand why the Royal Opera House keeps giving this man choreographic commissions; it seems driven out of a sense of pity, or perhaps a need to fulfill contractual obligations.

Not all was a loss. The costuming was good, the woman playing the nymphomaniac had a truly pleasant voice I was sad to have miked, and I had a chuckle or two during the song “You’ve Got the Clap.” The song “Drunk for a Penny” (about gin, of course) and the scene surrounding it was genuinely touching; but the rest of the evening I would have chucked as carelessly as the pissed bawd did her baby. All of the singing, costumes, and references to high culture (Hogarth) in the world couldn’t give this show coherence; it is a complete failure and I sincerely hope that after its short run it never again sees the light of day.

(This review is for a preview performance that took place on Wednesday, September 22nd, 2010. It runs at the Linbury until Sunday, September 26th. Per the web site it’s almost a year until this show is actually formally opened; best of luck fixing it in the meantime.)

Review – God’s Garden – Linbury Studio, Royal Opera House

February 12, 2010

Tonight J and I went to the Linbury to see God’s Garden, a dance piece by Arthur Pita combining two things I was very interested to see on stage: Madeira and Fado. Fado is the music of Portugal – sort of like the French chansons, tending to be sad – and I enjoy it. Madeira is an island I’ve visited a few time, a glorious, flower-covered island owned by Portugal. I don’t know much about it’s folk culture, but I wasn’t being checked at the gate, so off we went.

The piece was described as being about the unexpected consequences of the anger of a rejected bride. I expected a big tale of revenge, perhaps a retelling of “Like Water for Chocolate” with overtones of “Blood Wedding.” Instead, what I got was a tale of a family in Madeira (patio living and lots of potted flowers) dealing with each other, including the wayward brother (Nuno Silva) who, er, ditched his bride (Valentina Golfieri) at the altar and apparently ran off to drug-filled discos. After the bride was left at the altar, we got to hear a lovely Fado song that was presumably about having your heart broken. Then the bride did a solo in which she stood on one foot and used her leg to draw big circles in the air at times and did sort of stubby anguished leaps (she was so short she couldn’t make them graceful).

After a scene in which the bride’s family negotiated with the other family for financial recompense, we turned to the Groom, running away, dancing, and getting very doped up. He finally returned home, was patched up by gram (Diana Payne-Meyers) and pregnant sis (Lorena Randi), then feted by dad (Lucas Costa) and the rest of the family (cue mimed catching and killing pig for presumed feast). This celebration involved Silva sitting on the table in a big chair and singing “Canto Fado,” which led to a lights-up moment where the cast went out and handed out wine and tried to encourage the audience to sing along (the two Portuguese beside me took them up on the singing, so I went for it, too. No luck with the wine).

Later Granny dies, performing a really impressive solo (given that she looked to be about 70 years old) in which she collapses and then gets back up and dances again, once even doing the splits. She’s buried and then semi-dances a memorable duet with Costa. The tension in this came because Costa is blind, and as he lifted and carried her (and she at one point rolled away from him, and he rolled after), there was an incredible energy of knowing that he couldn’t see us or anything, that he was no longer using his cane or being led by anyone – and it seemed that much more like he was truly bereft by his mother’s death.

Then the vengeful bride comes back, forces the runaway groom to dance with her, and apparently chokes her in her decolletage. It ends with Golfieri dancing on a table over her dead would-have-been husband while the groom’s sister stabs a flowerpot with a big knife.

Does any of that make sense? To me, it seemed like a series of moments that mostly only had a dream-like relation to one another. The guitar playing and singing were all really enjoyable, and I was shocked at what a good voice the groom had. Granny was an amazing dancer – fleet of foot and so flexible that at one point I was checking to see if she was wearing a mask. I was really impressed that they’d manage to work in not just a solo for a person who can’t see, but a duet where he had to find his partner – it was very dramatic. There were certainly some real nods to Madeiran culture – I think the folk dance they did when Groom returned was the real thing – but I could not figure out a real “why” to what was going on. Still, the singing was great, they handed out free wine, and I’ve rarely seen someone so utterly suited to being on stage without underwear as Mr. Silva. So while this was not, in my mind, a great work of dance, it was memorable and an enjoyable night out. (Note: don’t hesitate to take a seat on the end of the aisle, as this will greatly improve your chances of getting some free vino.)

(This review is for a performance that took place on Thursday, February 11th, 2010. The final performance will be on February 13th. The ROH site says it “brings to life the intensity and drama of village life through dance, text and live fado music,” which I think isn’t really true, but it was pleasant nonetheless. For another take, please see the review in the Guardian.)

Review – ROH2 Firsts 2009 (Nicola Conibere, Mualla, Aurelie, El Toro Theater) – Linbury Studio

November 25, 2009

November! Firsts! This series of performances is a great way to see a wide variety of performers you’ve probably never seen before, at the wallet friendly price of £5 a ticket. I’m a big fan (went the last two years) and was really looking forward to this years series, though I could only go to one show.

Well, alas! The first piece of the evening, “Count One,” was as dreadfully unwatchable and pretentious as I had feared. Picture this: A person walks on the stage, holds their hand out as if waiting for it to be shook by someone else, then turns to the audience (as if about to take a bow), then returns to the wings. This is repeated, only as he is standing there with his hand extended, a second person walks forward, shakes their hand, then turns their back to the first person and extends their own hand as if expecting someone to shake it. They both turn to face the audience and then walk back to the wings. Now repeat with a third person. Now repeat with a fourth person. NOW LOSE YOUR WILL TO LIVE. I did. I realized there was little chance of anything happening I was going to care about in the next thirty minutes (THIRTY MINUTES!) and put my head on my husband’s shoulder and free associated in the dark. The description was sadly quite accurate and lived up to my fears of what the piece would be: something that was a much better idea to think about than to watch.

After this there was a long break where my three companions and I discussed our reaction to the first show while the stage was being prepared for the next. We’d all hated it; comparisons were made to Fram and other notable catastrophes. I’d wished I’d gone ahead and stayed outside for the first piece and then returned for the second and saved my energy and enthusiasm. Three of us decided that we were going to leave at the interval; all of us were put off by seeing a work about football (“An Unorthodox 1-2,” see description belwo), but, I think, in our hearts we’d just lost our faith in the curator’s ability to choose something that didn’t stink, and while Amy was willing to stay on for the fourth piece, all of us were having serious motivation issues.

Then it was time for Ilona Jäntti in “Muualla,” a charming piece in which a performer interacts with a screen that has animations projected on it. Her shadows on the screen morph into strange creatures that follow her around; boxes expand and contract, squishing her inside. Eventually she climbs a rope, chasing a red creature and getting caught in the forms on the screen as they fall apart and reform; eventually she is in a sort of rope trapeze, hanging sideways, spinning, walking on the screen as the images flip into a sort of Escherian reality … it was all very fun and very modern feeling, and while the rope work wasn’t particularly spectacular (got that at my circus performances earlier in the year), it did really fit the piece. Congrats to Tuula Jeker and Ilona for making a really bright spot in the night; it totally justified my attendance.

That said, the feeling of wanting, not just my money back, but to be compensated for my wasted time with the first piece had utterly corrupted my sense of experimentalism, and when the interval came, I went home, as did (as it turns out) the other three members of my party. Hopefully my friends won’t lost their trust in me as someone who can choose a good way to spend the evening; as it stands, I no longer feel compelled to check out anything else in the series after this catastrophe. Well, I would go, but next time I will trust myself and just wait it out in the bar, or get seats on an aisle so I can make a quick escape if necessary.

(This review is for a performance that took place on November 24th, 2009. It will be repeated November 25th.)

Here is a description of the program in case it falls off the ROH website:

Count One uses a simple choreographic structure to organize moments of everyday exchange and interaction through a series of physical motifs that are repeatedly ‘opened’ and ‘closed’ by its four performers. These episodes develop to embrace elements of theatrical spectacle, inviting an array of relationships and interactions to come in and out of play. A lighthearted, evolutionary journey from handshake to costumes and lights. ‘A quietly affecting piece; funny, clever and infuriating.’ Resolution!
Muualla/Elsewhere explores the possibilities of combining animation, circus and dance in live performance. Initiated and designed by naturalized Finnish architect and animator Tuula Jeker and choreographed and performed by the extraordinary Finnish aerialist Ilona Jäntti, the interaction between animation and performer creates a dialogue between the real and the virtual world; shadows morph into new creatures and nothing is what it seems.
An Unorthodox 1-2 was commissioned as part of a residency at Blue Square Premier football club Barrow AFC, and combines field recordings, spoken word and improvised music to explore the aural environment of a non-league football ground. Using live voice processing, video projections and graphic notation, Aurelie capture the unique aura of match day in a South Cumbrian town and present an idea of ‘the game’ as a performance in its own right.
One man’s world crumbles when his girlfriend leaves…Lovedrunk is a beautiful piece of highly visual theatre that fuses together live performance, physical theatre, digital video and emotive music to explore falling out of love. Darkly comic and highly inventive, this is physical theatre storytelling for the YouTube generation. Created with the support of Arts Council East.

Tickets: £5

Review – Sturmhöhe (Wuthering Heights) – Bern:Ballett at the Royal Opera House

May 28, 2009

Last night J, W and I went to the Linbury to see what I’d got in my mind as “Wuthering Heights: The Ballet.” I was excited about seeing a new story ballet, and, boy, was this new – its debut was at the end of March! It’s proper name, though, was “Sturmhöhe,” as it was being done by Bern:Ballet, who’d kindly come to London to show off their chops.

And a fairly important work this was, in many ways. First, it was new, a stab at keeping ballet moving forward rather than letting it go moribund. Second, it was a ballet based on character, rather neatly meeting the plea of the Washington Post‘s Sara Kaufman for leaving behind the twin shackles of Full Night Story Ballets and Plotless Pretty Balanchine and instead having more one act ballets created (created!) that told stories (stories! with human interactions at the core!)

So here we have it: a new work, with new dance, and a story newly told on stage. Not seeing it was completely out of the question, even though I only vaguely know the story of Wuthering Heights. I trusted that, like every story ballet I’ve been to, I would be able to understand.

And wow. Or perhaps, woe (or even whoa!), did we have character and people dancing like it mattered last night. A happy young woman (Jenny Tattersall, “Cathy”), carefree, swung around and played with by a happy, handsome young man (Gary Marshall, “Heathcliff”) … whose closeness with the girl sets off another man (Erick Guillard, whom I figured out was her brother without reading the notes). She tries to reconcile them, Hindley gets between her and Heathcliff, the brother eventually humiliates the young man in a way that to me spoke of long-lasting psychological effects, shoving him into a box, then using his arms to draw lines around Cathy. She “broke” these lines by repeating them with her own, much more graceful, movement, an action I read as, “You may try to cage me, but I will always be free.” She also did a great runn up one man’s back (as he knelt before her on the floor), followed by a leap – not so much a metaphor about “using someone to get ahead” but more of a symbol of taking flight with someone else’s help. The movement was quite original in many ways but very clear to read.

The set was fairly simple – a few ramps representing the hills and moors, and one more boulder-shaped piece that seemed at times a rock, an informal prison (when Heathcliff was inside it), a well (when the crazy woman was hovering over it), and a tombstone (in the final scene). The dancers ran and rolled up and down the long ones, slithered over their tops, and really used them far better than most set pieces ever could be. The small one was used just as much for its edges as its top and underside. Meanwhile, four chairs were at time a prison, at times rolling hills, and sometimes just chairs, though when turned back to back they seemed to express well the emotional action on the stage. All of this was accompanied by some very abstract music done with a bowed, electified double bass (Mitch Gerber), and strange electronic sounds (Dave Maric). It provided atmosphere without dictating the movement and worked well for me.

The two leads characters were caught up and reflected by mirror couples onstage, who also wore cream (a slip dress or t-shirt and trousers) and had their hair loose. As society put its hold on them, Cathy returned wtih a sort of corset around her waist and a much stiffer shirt, while Heathcliff returned in a shocking black – yet their doppelgangers stayed the same. To me, it reflected their inner beings, their true desires, acted out behind them while they dealt with whatever circumstances came their way.

The emotional intensity ratcheted up with the introduction of two more characters, a brother (Chien-Ming Chang) and a sister (Hui-Chen Tsai), both clad in purple. Cathy danced with the brother, and seemed fairly joyous, but didn’t have the same focus as she did before – in fact, she seemed somewhat indifferent to her effect on the young man. Cathy’s brother, meanwhile, was spurned (as expressed by the back-turned chair) by the woman.

Through all of this Cathy seemed to have an innocence or, perhaps, ignorance – when Heathcliff returns, she seemed unaware of the competition between him and “Edgar,” through they both lifted her and carried her and tried to monopolize her. Meanwhile, she wanted to be able to (as expressed in dance) have them unite so they could “carry her together” (as it were). I imagined in the 19th century this seemed to be playing the tease but I imagined her in a more free-love future where the guys actually could have shared her time. And then Cathy seemed to be trying to set up Heathcliff and the other girl, which was odd as she seemed to be giving away the person who caused her the most joy. I found myself wondering just what she was trying to accomplish. (Reading the program for clues, I see that Heathcliff was her step-brother – was she trying to marry him or not? Hmm. Only Bronte can answer this for me.)

At this point, I’d imagine anyone who knew the book would have a clear line on what was coming, but for clueless me, I instead found myself watching Heathcliff dance rather savagely (tossing her around, burying her under chairs) with the woman in the purple dress – though her movements on the edge of the upside-down rock made it seem like she was “teetering on the edge” mentally. I was amazed by the powerful, emotionally fraught relationships that all of these dancers, the five leads had been able to create just through movement, with nary a word, and then …

I am so sorry, but I flashed back to a Jasper Fforde book I’d read and it was just as terrible as remembering the Ballet Trockaderos when watching the Swan Lake pas de quatre. In his book The Well of Lost Plots there’s a long section about anger management classes for the characters in Wuthering Heights, and I was suddenly remembering how all of the characters in the novel behaved like such ridiculous twits. This made it very difficult for me to take the rest of the ballet seriously, as I was recalling Heathcliff as a giant ball of ego and Cathy as just too much of an innocent simpering thing for me to take her struggles at all seriously. I tried to pull back and focus …

And mostly succeeded. The dance went on just a tad too long in the end (80 minutes or so), but managed to wind up to a great powerful ending that I found very theatrical and emotionally hard-hitting. And both of the guys I took with me liked it, too. And it’s convinced me to read Wuthering Heights, even if I think I’m going to find Heathcliff just a bit too much of a ball of ego and Cathy a bit too innocent for her own good.

(Wuthering Heights continues at the Linbury Studio through Saturday, May 30th, and still has availability. Catch it while you can! For an alternate take, see Clement Crisp’s summary in the Financial Times.)

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 – Into the Little Hill – Linbury Studio, Royal Opera House

February 19, 2009

Well, some people have all the luck. I read today about the debut of “Into the Little Hill” taking place in the Royal Opera House bar (due to a power failure at the Linbury), and I thought: Staging? Give me free drinks any old day! But it wasn’t to be my luck: I’d bought my tickets for Wednesday the 18th, and my drinks looked like they’d only be coming along provided I’d paid for them.

However we still had the luck of having the composer of “Into the Little Hill” (George Benjamin) perform the piece, and truth be told I was happy to have seats, even though the two operettas were only 40 minutes each. The first was Harrison Birtwistle’s “Down by the Greenwood Side,” a truly bizarre performance that was modern opera meets a Mummers play as performed by homeless people, including a strange little bag lady (Claire Booth) who kept singing snatches of “The Cruel Mother.” Oddly, the other characters (a hobo “Father Christmas” – Pip Donaghy, St. George – Wela Frasier, some bizarre creature called the “Bold Slasher” – Robert Hastie, and a hysterically menacing “Dr. Blood” – Julian Forsyth – no idea if any of these besides Father Christmas and St. George actually relate to Mummers plays) did almost no singing at all, but instead re-enacted a ritual in which St. George fights and loses to the “Bold Slasher,” then is resurrected by Dr. Blood and proceeds to beat the tar out of the Bold Slasher – well, sort of, only his arms and legs (which fought on their own for a while) and then eventually his head get cut off, which turned the whole thing into some kind of Monty Python sketch. It all ends with the men beating up the bag lady. I didn’t get it at all but it was more or less absorbing, except that I didn’t find the music at all interesting – it was reminding me of my uncomfortable visit to see “Pierrot Lunaire.” 1960s classical music just isn’t for me.

This was followed by “Into the Little Hill,” the star piece for the night, described as a retelling of the tale of the Pied Piper. It was performed by two women, a mezzo (Susan Bickley) who played the role of the mayor and the mother, and a soprano (Claire Booth back again in much more flattering clothes), who played the role of the Mayor’s daughter and the Pied Piper.

The text itself was quite interesting, and the staging was good – it included projections that made it possible to follow the text in some of the more poetic moments – but the music just wsn’t of a style that I cared for at all. I did enjoy the way the “sound” of the Piper’s demand for money (which was not sung) was expressed by what seemed like a fixed piano, but the piece overall left me longing for the days when music was musical. Are composers really so busy rebelling against the plebian nature of musical theater that they are satisfied to throw together disparate notes and expect people to enjoy them? I just wanted to throw my hands in the air. Really, this noise has been going on for so many decades – it’s as if the world of painting got stuck at cubism and never moved forward again! I may just have to give up on seeing performances of this type altogether. While I appreciated the intimacy of the venue and the skill of the singers (and Jon Clark’s lighting design was totally on the money), I didn’t enjoy myself at all and wound up looking at the price on my tickets somewhat bitterly at the end of the night. Things are just too tight for us right now for me to make mistakes like this. I should stick with Baroque and other early music and otherwise not go to opera any more – after 10 years of trying to cultivate a taste for it, it’s probably time to throw in the towel.

(This review is for a performance that took place Wednesday, February 18, 2009. There is a final performance of this show on February 19th.)

Into the Little Hill – Linbury Studio – Preview

February 5, 2009

I just bought some tickets to Into the Little Hill at the ROH Linbury Studio. The theme of the show sounds pretty interesting, and I really like the tale of the Cruel Mother, which is part of the accompanying “Down by the Greenwood Side.” That means the ROH has hit me up pretty heavily in the last two days – I hope they’re proud of themselves!

Review – 2008 Firsts at the Linbury, second program (Compania LA, Chisato Minaminura Dance Company, Albert Quesada and Vera Tussing, Helen Stromberger)

November 19, 2008

Last night I went with my friend Ruth to see the Firsts program at the Linbury Studio of the Royal Opera House. This is the third year of this tradition for me and I really look forward to having an opportunity to get exposure to performers/choreographers etc. that I’d never heard of before (i.e. Hofesh Schecter). It’s a stunningly affordable event at 5 quid a pop, which helps cheer me up when there is (inevitably) mixed quality among the pieces. (I figure just one dud within four short pieces is quite tolerable – what I’m hoping for is just one thing that is really brilliant.) There’s also a problem in that there are several bills during the course of each year’s firsts, and how do you choose which to go to? Unsurprising the series is tremendously popular and as it’s turned out it can be difficult getting tickets to even one!

The first performance was Compañia LA doing Hambre. I was expecting some sort of circus act (as per the program note), but what I was got was much more so than that; physical performance (in this case juggling) used in a way that illustrated character and told a story. It was two men, one young and bookish, the other bald and hunched over, interacting with each other over a dinner table. The first man gave a clue about what was to come as he balanced a strange, giant-turtle-egg looking ball on a book he was reading, then fought with the other man to keep him from stealing his ball. This led to dinner and some silliness with plates, and, of course, a basket with eggs in it had to show up. There was a bit of a build up to the use of the eggs as items to juggle with, but finally they got going (once they’d established they actually had white balls instead of eggs), and the balls were flying everywhere. There was a regular theme of the guys stealing the eggs from each other, but really it was about them keeping them in motion, finally ending with a PONG like bit where they were bouncing balls off of chairs on top of the table and at each other. And it all ended … well, with a laugh. It was a great start to the night.

After a brief pause, the Chisato Minaminura Dance Company got rolling with “The Canon for Duet,” a piece which apparently made it through the trials of The Place Prize 2008 (something else which I should actually start seeing). The two dancers (Jemima Hoadley, Hannah Shepherd) performed in silence for about 4/5s of its length, with the music being represented as a projection at the back of the stage – basically what a stereo would show of the music at different tones from bass to treble. There was a fair bit of hand flapping and some movement forward and backwards in the center of the stage, which changed the height of the shadows they were casting. However, they mostly seemed to ignore each other, never really making eye contact, and I found the performance not very engaging. When the music – which was specially composed for this Minaminura – was finally played, it did add a tremendous layer of context to what they were doing, but overall I found this only engaged me as a mental exercise, not as interesting choreography.

After the intermission, we moved onto Albert Quesada and Vera Tussing’s “Beautiful Dance.” For this piece, the two dancers instructed us that, “During the performance will weill ask you to close and open your eyes. Please close your eyes.” We then listened to them walking and dancing on stage for a bit (I think – I didn’t take notes because my eyes were shut!). It sounded to me like they were trying to express the music of a song entirely through the beats of their feet (this would, I believe, be Beethoven’s Sonata number 13). When we opened our eyes, they stood side by side on stage, the one marching his feet while the other did what seemed to be arpeggios with hers, still in a bit of a march step. While this music they were making with their bodies continued (and a strange sight to watch it was, too), they started playing with the shadows they were creating on the back of the stage. I actually really enjoyed this, as they made it look like four people were performing, managed to get the shadows to cross over each other while the performers did not, and even made the shadows walk off of the stage so there was not one remaining. It was a really fun lighting trick and the whole performance was actually quite enjoyable, even though they only added the music in for a tiny bit. It really contrasted with the Minamura piece and I think was far more compelling.

The final bit of the night was Helen Stromberger’s “Illuminating Georgia,” which was my absolute favorite. It was less about dance than about creating a look which used human bodies to achieve it – while also commenting on the nature of people (in my mind). The dancers were very tightly controlled in a way that reminded me of “Attempts on Her Life.” Yet somehow, while I felt like the actors’ spirits were being sucked out of them by the highly structured, improv killing set up used for AHL, the work of beauty that was created in “Illuminating Georgia” left me in no way feeling like I’d been short changed (though it’s likely that the dancers weren’t being stretched as much as they could have been).

The piece opened with four women in white dresses standing in the dark, then having projections very precisely aimed on their faces, making for a kind of “Haunted Mansion” effect. They then had fire images (sort of) projected on them, which seemed to very deliberately also hit the curtain at the back of the stage, so that their bodies were faintly outlined, in a way that made me think of the old Kyrilian Aura they showed on “In Search Of.” And then the woman’s bodies, to me they looked like they were representing the swirls of energy inside the human body – the energy of thought, of mind, of emotion, of all the things that make us humans, and the outlines behind were what was visible of our tremendous inner experience. I was completely entranced – in fact, I was so caught up in what was going on on the stage that I forgot to take notes other than, “It’s a giant Nazbatag!” Oops. That said, what a great way to end the night!

Overall, this was a highly successful Firsts evening, leaving me regretting that 1) I hadn’t brought J (the lighting geek) and W (the juggling geek) with me and that 2) I couldn’t see any of the other performances. My other quibble? Too many open seats downstairs, for which I’m assuming people just didn’t bother to show up. I would say charge more – say 10 quid – and maybe people will value the experience a little bit more.

(This review is for a performance that took place on Tuesday, November 18th and repeats on November 19th – but it’s sold out.)
Description from the ROH website, which I will expect they will take down soon as they don’t really bother to archive their performances:
18 | 19 NOVEMBER 7.45PM

Compañia LA are a young and exciting contemporary circus/physical theatre company. Their show Hambre, which has toured widely in Europe, explores the change in relationship between two characters when their lives, confined to their home, become distorted through hunger and fear. The fusion of object manipulation and physical theatre in this comic yet reflective show, with a surreal twist, will delight.

Born in Japan and deaf from birth, Chisato Minamimura is a remarkable dancer and choreographer whose aim is to visualize a deaf person’s response to sound through choreography. In the Canon for Duet, which reached the Place Prize 2008 semi-finals, she works with film, sound and silence to create this intriguing and thought-provoking work.


‘ This engaging duo mirrored the spirit of the music in their percussive limbs, producing an understated delight.” Metro

Described as a ‘sonata for the body’ , Beautiful Dance explores movement as an acoustic, as well as a simply visual device; to achieve that peculiar sensitivity that occurs when each of the senses is isolated, and only then brought into play with each other. Beautiful Dance is part of an interdisciplinary and quirky project combining music, the science of semiotics, and dance to create a new movement-language.

Questioning the essence of physical existence, Illuminate Georgia uses the performers’ bodies as a projection surface to create a world of illusion where the appearance of the bodies is constantly transformed, abstracted and fragmented. As the dancers move through a series of physical states they enter a realm of an abstract existence where they merge with vibrating shapes and flickering lights.

Warning! Performance contains flashing lights.

Ballet Black – Linbury Studio, Royal Opera House

April 9, 2008

Since this show is sold out, I’m not going to do too thorough a review, even though I took fairly extensive notes – either you’ve got tickets or you can’t get them, and my review won’t affect what you do. (Note that due to demand, an extra Saturday matinee has been added, so perhaps tickets might still be available – check with the Royal Opera House ticket office. Actually, I checked, and they’re available as of Thursday afternoon, so if you want to see them, jump on it!)

Sadly, the choreography tonight was mostly fair to middlin’ and the dancers were …. not impressive. I thought maybe they were not hitting things in the first piece because it was new to their repertoire, but later it became clear there was a lot of missing going on – legs not able to go equally high (and a general lack of unison when it was called for), sloppy handling of partners (“Don’t drop her!”), a clumsiness on pointe (I realized that usually I am focused on a dancer’s face when she is tiptoeing toward me, but tonight, I could tell her mind was on her feet, and I watched them instead) – just a not-entirely polished group. I actually wound up watching the male dancers in hope of getting more satisfaction from their performances (I usually prefer to watch the women as they get more exciting movement), and while I was really impressed with, say, Jaime Rodney’s extension, Darrius Grey’s partner work (again, for example) was just not inspired. On the other hand, Stephanie Williams had great stage presence – though I think in her heart she wants to be doing solos and not ensemble work. (more…)