Posts Tagged ‘london dance reviews’

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.)

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Review – Birmingham Ballet’s “Stravinsky: A Celebration” (Petrushka, Firebird, Le Baiser de la Fée) – Sadler’s Wells

November 1, 2008

I had a really good evening tonight at the Birmingham Ballet’s Stravinsky program, about which I’d like to say lots and lots with references to all the dancers but since it got out at eleven PM (the program said 10:40), I’m finding myself home just shortly after midnight and not at my most eloquent. (That said since there are two more shows tomorrow, I’m going to give this a brief rundown in case one or two folks out there might be considering going.)

I had seen The Firebird two years back and was very excited about seeing it again by the same company, even more so because the rest of the ballets to be performed were also done to the music of Stravinsky, whom I consider one of the very best ballet composers out there. (Prokofiev, Stravinsky, Tchiakovsky – what is it with the Russians and the ballet composing? Maybe it’s something magical about growing up in a society where ballet is worshiped and classical music is also revered, but the Russians really own the whole “consistently great scores for ballet” category.) I was unfamiliar with the other two (though I’d heard of Petrushka), so I was looking forward to an evening of surprises – though I had no idea I’d have almost three full hours of dance on the table!

Petrushka is a surreal, if fun, ballet. A Chagall-like Russian village is visited by a sort of evil wizard, who plays the flute to make his puppets – a Moor (not PC in any way), a dancer girl, and a clown (Petrushka) – dance. Backstage at his house, we see that his puppets are actually psychologically tortured and kept by demons! At the village the next day, the clown makes a break for it and dies – the end. (Or this is what I thought the story was – I was too cheap to buy a program.) Meanwhile we get lots of great dancing from the various characters in the village, as well as pathos from the clown. My favorite: the two stable boys who blazed their way across stage in leaps of such height I wasn’t even registering them as real. (There was also lots of the squatting and kicking Russian dancing going on, which I have to imagine is not really the best thing for a dancer’s knees.) Petrushka is based on the original choreography (I’m betting) by Mikhail Fokine, and I found it a treat, if bizarre.

A very long break later and we were back for Le Baiser de la Fée, a new ballet choreographed by Michael Corder for Birmingham Ballet based on a story by Hans Christian Anderson (and reading rather a whole lot like the first third of the Snow Queen to me). Let me tell you about this performance: SEXY MALE FAIRIES. Er, well, in the program they are called “sprites” (and backstage they’re known as Aaron Robison and Tom Rogers), but when they were on stage I was about embarassing myself gawking at them. They’re tall, they’re muscular, and rather than just wearing tights, they were dressed in these spangled black and grey flame outfits that crawled up from their hips to their shoulders, with sort of twiggy headdresses on top of it all. My jaw dropped when the came on stage and pretty well stayed there while they were on.

This was probably a good thing and representative of much of what wasn’t great about this part of the show. Costumes: awesome (props to John F. Macfarlane), but the dancing was just not all that when it wasn’t the fairies. “The Bride” (Natasha Oughtred), well, she was cute and lithe, but she seemed … disposable. There was none of the brilliance of a Coppelia, none of the tragedy of an Odette – she was just more or less a space filler, because her dancing said nothing about her. And the male corps, well, I’m afraid this piece really brought out some of their problems with ensemble work during the “village” scenes. Unison? I think it’s more of a concept for them than a goal. I am reminded that it’s invariably the men that define the skill level of a company. Good ballerinas are not that hard to find, but assembling that level of skill in a male corps is a real stretch, presumably because there are so many fewer to go around. A few good companies get to pick and choose, but for a lot of them, they take good enough. It made me miss Pacific Northwest Ballet, I tell you. At any rate, I still enjoyed the ballet, but I don’t think it’s going to become a classic. (I checked and the music was originally written for a ballet of this same name and with the same story. Perhaps some day I can see Balanchine’s version.)

Finally, the Firebird, a ballet with a completely brilliant score, amazing (original Ballet Russes?) costumes (that you can totally see from the balcony – nothing subtle about them!), and nearly perfectly matched choreography. I could feel goosebumps forming as the low rumble of the drums started up in the orchestra pit (though the old people behind me kept talking: people, please SHUT UP during the overture. This is not the commercial break, it is the start of the show. It’s live music! There are people performing down there and you just had twenty five minutes to have that conversation!). Finally the curtain came up and we had our lovely Firebird, Nao Sakuma, darting across stage.

As a character I love the Firebird. She is not a love interest – she remains a wild creature throughout the ballet and only dances with the prince to win her freedom again. It’s great to see movement which fights against the partnering instead of getting all smooth and mushy – and really, even the princess doesn’t do that, just bows formally. It’s a great ballet, one of my top five favorites.

Overall, I very much enjoyed my evening and thought my thirty quid well repaid. And good news: Birmingham Ballet is coming back in the spring (April 14 – 18, 2009) to do a mixed bill (Pomp and Circumstance, they’re calling it, including the amusingly titled “Still Life at the Penguin Cafe”) and “Sylvia” (though not the Ashton choreography so I might go see it) at the London Coliseum. Score!

(This review is for a performance that took place on Friday, October 31st, 2008.)

Wayne McGregor’s Random Dance Company – “Proprius” – Covent Garden Piazza

September 13, 2008

Today I had the good luck to be able to make it to the Royal Opera House just in time to see an outdoor performance of Wayne McGregor’s Random Dance Company’s new work, “Proprius.” I was, of course, there to see the various events of the Ignite Festival – but the luck came in because I didn’t think I was going to be able to make it at all. You see, I have someone visiting me from America this week, and this person doesn’t care for theater-type stuff, and this has meant that I, for all intents and purposes, have been living a life of Total Abstinence. Aaargh. In fact, we were supposed to spend the day at the Leighton House, because said house guest enjoys architecture, and I was going to have to abandon my dreams of spending my day surrounded my installation art and fresh new dance stuff. WAH!

And yet … my friend came down with a cold, and she was too tired to go out, so suddenly we were able to do anything we wanted to and off we went to Covent Garden, for the arts festival I’ve been wanting to go to for well over six weeks. At the very moment we arrived, people were just getting arranged on stage for “Proprius.” I said, is this not kismet? I sat down on the cobblestones (see my point of view here) and got ready to watch the performance – not having read a single thing about it. Ah, well, it’s hardly the first time.

The key element of Proprius is, obviously, the fact that it has a huge cast of London school kids in what seemed to be the 8-14 year range. The dance started with these young folk on stage, about ten of them, a real panoply of faces and body types. It looked to me not like they had been plucked from dance schools, but rather that they were completely unaccustomed to the vocabulary of modern dance. What I was watching was them interpreting a language I knew very well through their own, untuned bodies (and to some extent minds – I’m sure it was very new to them). Wayne’s movement style is very familiar to me – a way of doing trust falls, of lifting and carrying other dancers, of turning people using your heels, of balancing in a way that’s just not quite standard in modern dance – a way I find far more intimate and involved than most modern dance, and certainly ballet – that totally says, “This is something Wayne McGregor created.” It’s a language that is as clearly itself as Chinese or Japanese – I would never mistake it for Korean just because it was in a different context. And it’s difficult, and it’s, I think, not something people wrap their heads around easily – it doesn’t really have a basis in the “language of dance” that people outside of modern dance aficionados have in their heads (think of ballroom dancing or club dancing or even how people dance in musicals – it’s not modern dance at all).

And yet, these kids got it. They lifted and carried, they leaned and moved, they bounced off of each other, they did their best to be the dancers they had been asked to be, and they carried it off. They weren’t just trained monkeys moving into position as asked (a problem for me with nearly any performance involving children is a certain robotic approach to what they’re doing, as if the independence had been stamped out of them); they looked at each other and thought and got into it and they danced. I was really absorbed by them and their difference from usual dancers; the youngest ones (especially the boys) were a bit gawky, the older girls were frequently of a more normal body type than dancer women are (which made them move differently, though their own inexperience seemed to be the real delimiter of movement style), and their faces communicated more than they may have wanted to. (I especially felt for one girl who got kicked in the face by someone else who couldn’t see where she was; she looked pretty unhappy, but big points to her for soldiering on.)

I realized while I was watching them that they actually represented a lot more of what I think London is like than I ever see in dance troupes; profoundly multi-cultural, with a range of life experiences. They also danced like they really cared about doing it well. I got bizarrely excited about this, in part because I get frustrated about how overwhelmingly white (or perhaps culturally segregated) dance tends to be. I was reminded of the Ballet Black show that I had found so disappointing several months back. These kids showed enthusiasm and embraced the technique so well that I wondered if any of them harbored dreams of being dancers. Why couldn’t this be the school performance of the ROH’s ballet school? I wanted to watch their technique continue to develop!

AHEM. Interspersed between the sets done by the groups of kids – there seemed to be about forty of them, and they were dancing in groups of ten to twelve – were sets done by the adult members of Random Dance. They were doing the usual McGregory moves – curling over each other, carrying each other, making me go gah! as they balanced on one foot then raised the other leg to be parallel to their bodies (with their feet next to their heads!), being tight and thoughtful and gorgeous and making me wish I always sat so close to the stage when watching dancers.

I was fascinated by the difference between the adults and the children. Clearly there was a huge discrepancy in terms of professionalism, but in addition to the variation/benefit ten years of dance training will make, there was also the change that the aging had done in terms of development of muscles and bodies. These dancers could do more because they had more to do it with. In some ways, it was like listening to language spoken by skilled adults, complete with rhymes, puns, and literary allusions. (Alas, I took no notes and cannot discuss the dance in much more detail than this.)

About two thirds of the way through the piece, a very different group of young dancers came on stage. I was pretty curious about what was going on – many of them were wearing glasses and they stood and carried themselves differently. I realized that, in his groups of kids, Wayne had added in a batch of developmentally disabled kids. “Wow,” I thought. I have never seen kids like this dance on stage. What was going to happen?

Well, what happened is that these kids, who’d clearly been rehearsing along with the rest of the group, got out there and danced. The vocabulary was still the same, and their faces were far more communicative than even the other kids’ were, and they did show their frustration visibly at times (I think there may have been some confusion about what was supposed to be happening), but they still moved, and moved in ways that were clearly recognizable as a choreographed dance. It felt a bit like Wayne had done some things to make the movement such that it might be more clearly cued off of other dancers’ movement, so that they were helping each other figure out what to do next, and there wasn’t so much in the way of lifts and trust falls – but they weren’t being coached by someone standing on stage, they were doing it on their own. And I thought, wow, this is so cool. We really do have a group of dancers that really reflects the richness of London. I liked seeing that on stage. They weren’t being pandered to or talked down to, and we as the audience weren’t being talked down to, either. I felt like, this is our community, these kids are a part of our community, and we’re all sharing in this experience of what dance is and how it “sounds” different depending on who is speaking it but the words and the language structure are still the same. And I was really proud of Mr. McGregor for really going for it, and for making it successful, and for treating these kids with respect as performers just as much as he had the other group.

The final bit was the adult dancers performing with the kids from earlier in the performance, and I loved it. The adults were really into it, seeming to be very enthused by working with the more inexperienced dancers – not at all bored or put upon, but rather wanting to very much see these girls (I think it was mostly girls for the last bit) look good and do their best and make a good showing. And the kids rose to the challenge. One girl, a black girl with curly golden braids, just sort of turned into a professional dancer in front of my eyes when she partnered with a gorgeous male Random Dance company member – she stood up straight, she looked completely serious, she moved great, SHE rose to be as good of a partner for him as he was for her. It reminded me of how, when I sing with someone who’s a great piano player, I suddenly find all of these notes and ornamentation coming out of my mouth that I didn’t know were going to be there It was fantastic and very energizing for me as an audience member.

Overall, I found this a really uplifting performance and a real pleasure. McGregor didn’t compromise his choreography because he expected less of his dancers (I mean, technically clearly he didn’t try to get them to do moves they couldn’t, but the intelligence of his dance was in no way diluted), and I felt, as an audience member, really pleased by what I got to see.

And after this there were so many cool things to see inside the opera house for the rest of the festival! (Alas, no time to review them today.) Ultimately my only regret was that I couldn’t see all of the installations and performances in the time remaining me (especially the “Chocolate Tasting: Interactive” event – just my kind of art). I do really hope Ignite becomes a regular event at the ROH and every year we celebrate the birth of the new season with a weekend of riotous, thought-provoking installations, events, and performances in the friendly confines of Covent Garden and the Royal Opera House.

(This review is for the 2 PM performance that took place on Saturday, September 13th. Proprius will be performed again September 14th at 1 and 3 PM in Covent Garden in the corner in front of the Royal Opera House entrance. Admission is free.)

Review – Giselle – Mikhailovsky Ballet at the London Coliseum 2010

July 26, 2008

I’ve realized there’s little point in posting a review of a show that’s already finished up as most people look for them to help determine whether or not to go, but I will say just a bit about this show, sparing you the details about trying to find someone to go with me when my date for the evening said, “But … but … I totally forgot about you buying me those tickets for my birthday!” (Grr!)

Last night we saw the Mikhailovsky Ballet performing Giselle at the London Coliseum, part of a five night/three show visit by this group. I’m not sure if they’ve ever been to London before, but I was pretty eager to check them out … I’ve enjoyed the visits by the Bolshoi and was quite sad when I found out they weren’t coming to London this summer. The prices were quite high (again), so I decided against seeing more than one show, but I’ve noted that they’ve had tickets available at the half price booth everyday so some concessions have been made to keeping ticket costs in the breathable part of the atmosphere. I guess part of the issue is also that the Coliseum is really just such a barn – it’s hard to fill every seat, and, really, many of them aren’t that good; still, I suspect there are far few crappy seats at the Coliseum than there are at the Opera house (and let me tell you, when they say “standing room, restricted view,” they mean “enjoy the music because for between 60 and 40 percent of the time, that’s all you’re getting). The Coliseum also just has more damned seats, but this is good as it means less sell outs (which is how I wound up in lame standing side seats at the ROH).

At any rate, due to having most of the rest of the week booked (notice the near daily postings here, and, truth be told, I’m actually a day behind as I’ve already seen another show but not had time to write about it yet), Giselle was the winning show. I had seen this done by the Cuban National Ballet in Seattle some years ago and loved it; the story is quite fun (young girl falls in love with prince and then dies of a broken/faulty heart; ghost of young girl finds prince in wood and tries to KILL KILL KILL him – or something close enough to that, basically act two has evil fairies, which is enough for me to love the show) and the music is good. The surviving 19th century ballets are really just quite good and since every company plays them differently, it never gets old to see them (especially when they have great scores).

The show starred Anastasya Matvienko, who is apparently famous. I, of course, didn’t know her, because I am not up to date on dancers around the world; I just try to learn the ones in the local groups. She was really just extremely good – light hearted and lovely as a young woman; beautiful and powerful as a Wili (evil fairy). I was really amazed by how expressive she was with her feet – watching her dance during the second half, after the prince has been caught by the Wilis, was really impressive. She also brilliantly captured the “mad scene” after the prince’s identity (and non-availability) was revealed. Suddenly with her big eyes and her thin face she looked every bit the broken hearted, out of control, sickly teenaged girl who really just wasn’t going to make it past the end of act one. So Matvienko pulled off the thing I rarely see in Russian dancers – great acting married to the (expected) excellent technique – and she didn’t show off so much that it distracted from the story being told. I applaud her, and add this: I could not take my eyes off of her when she was on stage. What a treat!

She was paired with Denis Matvienko, who did a good job of being both arrogant, fearful, and, finally, tender and loving. His bravado leaps in the first act (which I always tend to think of as “showing off to the girl to prove how virile he is”) were high and sharp, including the ones with the half-turn in the air (God, can I please talk to somebody who can actually help me learn more about ballet so I can describe what’s going on with the right words?), but he also seemed to really understand how his dance conveys character and situation, so when he’s being forced to dance by the Queen of the Wilis (Oksana Shestakova), the smoothness and, well, lack of passion in his dancing – a bit hard to convey when you’re also trying to show that you’re being forced to dance very hard – really nicely conveyed the idea of being bewitched. Good on you, Denis, and as a side note, very nice work by Roman Petukov in the role of the the man who does have to dance himself to death. Actually, I’m a bit amused, because both Giselle and “The gamekeeper” die, but instead of feeling moved at the tragedy, instead I was excited by how good their dancing was. It seemed morbid, but, what can I say, I loved watching them and they gave great performances!

Anyway, in short: gorgeous. My only complaint is the lighting design – it was irritating to watch the dancers walk from light into shadow when merely going across the stage, and some places in which the dancers were standing were positively dark. The follow spot operator also did a poor job of keeping the light on the person who was the center of attention in any given scene, something which would have helped overcome the deficiencies in the lighting of the set. And, truth be told, I preferred the choreography that the Ballet Nacional de Cuba used, which had much more forceful Wilis – I just didn’t get the kind of shivers up my spine that I did when watching theirs (though I was happy to say goodbye to the cheesy 70s sets). That said, I am sorry I am not going back to see the triple bill tomorrow but my wallet failed to make the grade. With luck we’ll see them again next year!

(This review is for a performance that took place on Friday, July 25th, 2008.)

Review – Ballet Flamenco Sara Baras – “Sabores” – Sadler’s Wells

July 11, 2008

When Booklectic and I (and others) went to Barcelona two months ago, we debated going to see a “Tablao de Flamenco” at the Poble Espanol, but were put off by the price (55 euros) and the fear of being stuck in a tourist trap. Me, well, I’ve seen what I consider to be some very fine flamenco, starting at the Barcelona flamenco bienalle of 2002, and I couldn’t bear the thought of seeing bad dance, so when Booklectic and I were thinking of fun things to do this summer, I said, “Hey, why don’t we finally see some flamenco at Sadler’s Wells? It’s pretty much guaranteed to be really good …”

Sara Baras in no way let me down. “Sabores” presented a variety of Flamenco styles, danced by her and her troupe of nine (or so) with seven musicians/singers accompanying. I am, alas, uneducated when it comes to the different styles, but what I saw was a variety of group unison dancing (which was reminding me a bit of Riverdance) and brilliant solos, two of which were performed by the ace male flamencos she had brought with her. (I’ll fill in the details when I have the program to refer to.) One of them did a dance with castanets – I found myself hanging on every percussive beat he was making – practically eating out of his hands! – while the other dressed in more of a caballero style, including with a hat and tan boots.

Baras herself carried much of the evening, and she does really have scintillating footwork, but also a strong dramatic presence. She is exactly what I expect of a flamenca – regal, straight-backed, serious, and sexy as all get out. She seemed to lean toward what seemed to me to be a more modern style, one that I think is suited to her personal aesthetic. There was a serious lack of red lipstick, haircombs, and big bangles or earrings on the women of the troupe. I did find it a bit sad that there was no dance done with the really long trailing skirt that the women whip around them, as I find it really hypnotizing and a great dance to watch – but instead, we got Baras in a black top with leather chaps on, WOW! In front it looked like (and moved like) a skirt, but in the back it showed off her strong legs.

The audience at Sadler’s Wells was very appreciative, starting out with some “Ole!”s, then moving to “Guapo!” when the men were dancing. Three quarters of the way in, they were just talking to the stage, mostly in Spanish, and the dancers were preening and parading and looking prouder and more excited and even occasionally talking back to the audience. The energy was really good. The musicians were clearly paying attention to every bit of what the dancers were doing, and even though quite a bit of it was stiff choreographed unison dancing (which I have never felt was very flamenco), there was still a lot of improv going on. The final hoedown was perhaps not as good as it could have been, if it was planned and not just a spontaneous reaction to the crowd’s enthusiasm – personally, I wanted to see the many corps dancers get their moment in the sun, since they barely seemed to have any solo work at all over the course of the entire evening. Overall, though, it was a not large complaint to make for what I found to be a very enjoyable evening.

A much bigger complaint: our dinner beforehand was at a restaurant called Tortilla and while their burritos are fine and their frozen margaritas most tasty, their tacos are an absolute disgrace. Even though they’d “double-bagged” them (two tortillas) and they actually used proper corn tortillas, all four of the tacos my husband and I ordered completely disintegrated before the third bite, the contents falling out of the bottom of the split and flaking “shell.” I know these were “soft” or street-style tacos, but in all my years of ordering off of taco trucks I’ve never seen such a shameful performance. Never again!

(This review is for a performance that took place on Thursday, July 10th.)

Wayne McGregor’s Random Dance company – “Entity” – Sadler’s Wells

April 11, 2008

I admit it: I’m stumped. I did not get this performance at all. Worse, the people I brought with me apparently DID. Quote: “It’s a show best appreciated by bisexual math geeks.” I will attempt to explain what this means, but for non-math geeks I recommend buying the program – which I did not do – in hopes of clarification. The Sadler’s Wells website unfortunately doesn’t help. After my take on the show, I’ll include their take (in my inadequate words), to hopefully present both sides.

I have been convinced Wayne McGregor is a genius since I saw “Chroma” – and if he’s managed to get a friend of mine to like modern dance, via a piece I did not get at all – then there’s really got to be something to the man – and to the show. I went specifically because I wanted to see what he was up to as a choreographer, and this was the first offering I was aware of since “Chroma.” (more…)

Royal Ballet Mixed Rep: Robbins’ “Afternoon of a Faun,” Balanchine’s “Zigane” and … something by Wheeldon

March 26, 2008

Last night I went to Covent Garden with Josela and Mabel_Morgan to see the mixed bill on offer. I hadn’t initially been too tempted, as I have yet to see a dance incorporating video that I’ve liked; but when I read that Carlos Acosta was going to be strutting his stuff AND there would be a Jerome Robbins piece, I was sold – especially when I realized I could get Ye Olde 5 quid day of show tickets. Color me shallow, not in the least because I decided I could leave without seeing the last performance (by Ashton, who’s still very “whatever” in my book) and then have some much needed time to pack. Oh well, I guess they wouldn’t have two intermissions if they didn’t want to let us leave without disturbing everyone else.

So, the Wheeldon – “Electric Counterpoint,” brand new and all, only on its fifth performance. Can I mention the night started extremely well, thanks to getting a free, bad-work-memory-erasing, second round of margaritas at Wahaca? Anyway, music credited to Bach and Reich – I was happy about that. But. Oh, the but. The dancers each came on stage for little solos, accompanied by some Bach and their own voices speaking about how they felt about dance and while dancing, while a video of him/her performed behind on a screen, sometimes mirroring them, sometimes illustrating what they were saying. It wasn’t bad, the dance and the video, but the movement was uninteresting (sadly on both parts) and the voiceovers were vapid. I mean, gosh, I’m sure the dancers are nice people, but all of it was a distraction from the dance, and the dance wasn’t good. Mabel said the whole thing reminded her of “Creature Comforts,” a TV show (I was told) in which normal people answer questions and their answers are then reproduced as claymation. Horribly, I think she was right.

The second half of the piece benefited from having nothing but the live Reich to listen to, and while I enjoyed it, it didn’t have a lot of energy or excitement – a quality sadly shared by the action on stage. I’ve seen Wheeldon do good couple work, and there were some moments when I got lost watching two people just dancing with each other, but mostly I just had no response to the performance at all. The videos weren’t always aggravating and I was mostly able to ignore them, but … it just seemed like a big failure to me, one of those pieces that will get revived one more time and then fall out of rep. So it goes.

Next up was Jerome Robbins “Afternoon of a Faun,” which, to my surprise, I realized I had seen before the one time we’d seen City Ballet in New York. It’s a clever play on the traditional story, with a sexy dancer lounging about in a studio, but to be honest what I really want to see is the original choreography. I aslo wanted it to be longer. And I wanted a pony.

Finally it was time for “Zigane,” a Balanchine piece I’d not seen before. It was kind of fun and certainly better than the Martins I’d seen the night before, but in no way mindblowing – fun, well-executed filler that he probably crapped out at a nickle for the dozen back in the day. We all left together; if I’m going to be convinced of the genius of Ashton, it’s far more likely to happen at Sylvia than during a short work.

(This review was for a performance that took place Wednesday, March 19th, 2007.)

Mini-review – Matthew Bourne’s “Swan Lake” – Sadler’s Wells

December 21, 2006

I had a great night at Sadler’s Wells with Jess, Libby, Caroline, and Wechlser watching handsome shirtless men dance around stage with leather pants on. Er, I mean, with feather pants on, at least in acts one and three, as this was Matthew Bourne’s Swan Lake. Something about the production seemed to leave us all very … energized. Not sure how to put it really, but I do think “festive” captures it. Talk about getting in the spirit of the season! What is it about watching actors die on stage that could possibly be so cheering? At any rate, I end the day in a very good mood, which I must frankly admit has a LOT to do with it being the start of my Christmas vacation. No work until January 2nd … WOOOO!

(This review is for a performance that took place on December 20th, 2006. It was migrated from another blog.)