Posts Tagged ‘Peacock Theatre’

Review – Rock the Ballet – Bad Boys of Dance at the Peacock Theater

June 13, 2014

I’m a ballet fan, as you know, but I’m also a fan of exciting dance nights that aren’t driven by pointe shoes and violins. And, I’ll admit, I also get a thrill out of going to watch people perform who are, well, yummy. And the idea of watching “Bad Boys of Dance” whip their shirts off and “rock the ballet” sounded very appealing to me. For once, I had no difficulties getting someone to come with me: seeing gorgeous men flinging themselves around on a stage to rock and roll was a very easy sell!

It was great to see people moving to music I enjoy – “Tainted Love,” “My Sharona,” “Sexy and I Know It” – and the audience was really into it (occasionally singing along). A lot of the dancing was forward facing group moves, like 90s music videos, with the various men occasional taking a moment to show off with spins, leaps, or even backflips. (Oddly there was no actual street dancing – a bit of a gap, I think.) The mix was spiced with the addition of a blonde female dancer (Adrienne Canterna) who seemed to me to be one of those hypermobile types, capable of bending in half backwards as well as, er, undoing her arm from its socket (or that’s what it looked like). Canterna did a lot of duets with lead male dancer James Boyd, which, thankfully, managed to stay on the right side of good taste – you saw her as the fun, athletic, smiling girlfriend that everyone could relate to. She pulled off leaps and spins that challenged the men mightily – I actually wanted to see her in toe shoes, just to see if she could keep the speed up. Amongst the men, I found myself keeping an eye on Jace Zeimants, who, while less heavily muscled than the other guys, seemed to feel the music more.

Rock the Ballet

The BAD BOYS OF DANCE in ROCK THE BALLET
Photo Credit: Irina Chira

If I had my druthers, I would have liked to have had some more slow bits, rather than such a generally even rock beat. The dancers just could have done more if there’d been more headspace to not be rushing around all of the time. And I felt the show was done a bit on the cheap – costumes appropriated from the Gap, cut-rate background projections and no set – but the rock music and lively dancing kept the evening rolling along. The second half, in which there were costumes that were much more “phoar” and much less “casual day at the office” was bushels of fun – with Jailhouse Rock giving all the men a chance to show off and “Shot Me Down” (a remix of Sonny Bono’s “Bang Bang”) being my favorite bits. All of this on a sunny summer day, white white galore and walking out to “Sexy and I Know It” – I haven’t had this much fun since the Buttrock Suites way back in the Seattle days. Nice job, Bad Boys!

(This review is for a performance that took place on Thursday, June 12, 2014. It continues through June 28th.)

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Review – Silk Road – China Gansu Dance Company at Peacock Theater

January 14, 2014

There is almost no way in which Silk Road met its description as “a touching story of friendship and peace between Chinese people and foreign merchants during the Tang Dynasty (618-907).” It is a dance spectacular designed to promote a modern Chinese image of its restive Western provinces – but it seems to have no grounding whatsoever in actual history (as the area was controlled by Tibetans for part of this time) much less the basics of modern choreography.

The story is constructed around a single image from the Mogao Grotto Buddhist Cave paintings – that of an Apsara (female sky deity) playing a pipa (Chinese guitar) on her back. Silk Road posits that this painting was inspired by the daughter of the cave painters, but constructs an elaborate tale of how she (Yingniang – alternately played by Li Li and Chen Chen) and her father (Shenbi Zhang – An Ning) saved the life of a Persian Trader (Yunus – Suo JingXing), which led to him marrying Yingniang. When she returns from Persia with a tribute gift to China, she is waylaid by the bandit Dou Hu (Song Yulong), who steals the gift so it can be presented by a corrupt official (Wang Jianfei) as his own. At the great presentation of gifts (cue dance routine), Yingniang reveals that she was the one who brought the pipa, and the Military Governor has Dou Hu and the official executed.

This piece achieves moments of beauty during a few key scenes, both of which bring to life the Dunhaung/Mogao Grotto paintings. At the beginning, a crowd of about twenty female dancers recreate the hand gestures of the thousand-armed Buddha. As done in a shimmering golden light, with their metal-tipped fingernails glittering in the light, it was beautiful – though the effect was ruined by sitting in the far right of the house. Another lovely scene has Yingniang doing a ribbon dance, gloriously illustrating the fabric movements captured statically by the ancient painters.

Alas, so much of this was undone by the overall choreography, which was juvenile to the point of absurdity. There was a great emphasis on prettiness and group movement, but there was almost nothing else to admire besides occasional gymnastics and a few Beijing Opera style gestures – it was as if the 20th century had never happened. Making it even more teeth-grinding was the over the top miming, which made the villains come off like Snidely Whiplash with Yingniang as Trixie Trueblood. Moderation in acting seemed a foreign concept, with Shenbi Zhang’s death scene so elongated it turned into parody.

Granted, this show is meant to be understood with no words at all, but if they were really simplifying it for that reason, wouldn’t it have been better if the visible printed text (seen on two occasions) had not been in Chinese? And the final dance sequence in the palace was such a comic departure from history I actually got angry at the pure laziness and historical ignorance we were supposed to swallow. Korean, Thai, Japanese and Persian diplomats coming to kowtow to the Tang military official in Dunhuang – it was such an obvious political statement I burst out laughing. (There has been significant anti-Chinese unrest in the Muslim west, but this wasn’t a reality the choreographers dare acknowledge – better to pretend it has always been Han Chinese.)

I was willing to accept having a heroine who dressed in hot pink flares, but to have a single Japanese woman – in 19th century dress – at the Chinese court – in Tang dynasty (appx 700AD) Dunhaung – beggared the imagination. Yes, there was a giant wall of glitter falling from the sky at the end, but it couldn’t take the taste of sloppy dramaturgy, careless costuming, and panto camels away from the show. Most of the audience clearly wasn’t bothered, as they continued to seat themselves even twenty minutes after the start of the show and talked and took photos throughout, but I found this show two painful hours. The only thing missing at the end? A group of Fa Lun Gung supporters handing out flyers outside of the event, but I could only imagine that in the face of official Chinese historical suppression (and revision), they were keeping themselves safe from the goons.

(This review is for a performance that took place on January 11th, 2014. It closed in London on January 12th.)

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Good deals – Traces at the Peacock for £15 and Radamisto at ENO for £10

October 12, 2010

Yesterday’s Metro had two great deals back to back: discounts for Traces, the Canadian circus group (whom I enjoyed last year), and Radamisto, the Handel opera now on at English National Opera.

For Traces, the deal is 50% off the top two ticket prices (normally £38 and £29, so two could go for £15 each) for Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday shows through October 21st. Book either by calling 0844 412 4322 and quoting “Celebrate the City” offer or go to the Sadler’s Wells website and use the code pcdcelebrate.

For Radamisto, the discount is good for £10 balcony or £20 upper circle seats (“selected areas,” whatever that means). This appears to be good for all dates (it ends November 4th). To book, either call ENO at0871 472 0800 and quote “Metro Radamisto Offer” or book online at this address (possibly using the same offer code, the ad is not clear).

Review – Les Ballets Trockadero de Monte Carlo 2010 – Peacock Theatre

September 15, 2010

Of all the shows in the Sadler’s Wells fall calendar, the one that jumped out at me was the return of Les Ballets Trockadero de Monte Carlo. I recently read an Arlene Croce review of their early performances way back in the 70s, and it made me want to go back and re-evaluate the company, far from my position when I saw them over ten years ago, when I’d never seen a Swan Lake and hadn’t a clue to either “The Dying Swan” or La Sylphide. Croce said the Trocks really got very well the whole concept of what it was that made a ballerina, and that their dancing wasn’t about making fun of the ego that frequently runs behind the makeup – but rather of celebrating “ballerinaness.” (It was a great essay: I may reproduce some of it here.) My recollection of them was very much of being clowns on stage, and my getting kind of bored with the shenanigans – but then, later, I realized both that they’d danced much better than I’d realized, and also that they were teasing ballet at a higher level than I could appreciate (I think that first performance ended with a sort of “Stars and Stripes Forever” thing a la Balanchine, which sailed right over my head). So I’m a much better educated ballet fan now than I was then; how, then, are the Trocks?

I picked the more challenging of the two programs, figuring (as I am wont) that I wanted to see more new work and less of the old standards (Program 2 has “Swan Lake” in it, which I wasn’t too compelled to revisit). This means that last night I got “ChopEniana,” a sort of hybrid of all of the Romantic-era white ballets; “The Dying Swan” (not on the program but a nice bonus especially now that I’ve seen it fried six different ways); “Patterns in Space” (a la Merce Cunningham); “La Vivandiere” (the program describes it as being an 1844 ballet about a camp follower and an inn-keepers son, and it’s apparently not made up though the fact the original lead was named “Fanny” had raised suspicions); and “Raymonda’s Wedding.” Now, I would have ALSO thought “Raymonda” was made up, but the BalletBag twitter feed did a series of “Raymondas” a few weeks back, so to my horror I have to say … all the ballet was based (mostly) on actual shows!

On to the show. We started with a ballet that was generally “romantic,” with some eight ballerinas and one man in an impossibly large wig. It featured typical Trocks clowning – ballerinas pushing each other out of the way, fluffing their dresses, hamming it up shamelessly, taking up the wrong position on stage, missing their cues, etc. Despite the title, I seem to recall an entire lack of Chopin. In fact, my focus really came back on stage when a dancer wandered on to the music of Giselle – my God, I thought, have I been listenign to this music all along and not recognized it? Is it a joke that she just walked on from some other ballet? But no, I’m pretty sure the music was mostly other songs of that era and not at all Chopin, adn the Gieselle was obviously intentional, though the dancers onstage were meant to be fairies and not Wilis. (At one point the male dancer, as hideously made up as the women, inadverntently plucked the wings off his partner’s back … then stuck it under his nose like a mustache.) For this one there wasn’t a lot of dance to be thinking about – it was mostly comedy.

This was followed by “La Vivandiere” (I think!), a romp in which much was made of the very small male dancer and his positively gigantic partner, who completely blocked his view from stage and was unable to dance under his arms. In fact, all of the dancers were mocking the lead ballerina’s gigantic size –

Then … I’m thinking back and remembering … yet another thing thrown in the mix? There was, and I can’t entirely remember if it was right after the first performance or not. A pas de deux was announced at the beginning, much as the “Dying Swan” was, but I couldn’t hear its title through the thick accent of the announcer. I think I thought it was the actual “Raymonda” … the dancer, was the least made up of the troupe in the first piece and had a smallish build – but damn, could she work it on pointe! What is sad, actually, is her partner, in his leaps across stage, had his following leg at such an odd angle that it made him look like he was still trying to clown – or, worse yet, that he wasn’t able to keep up with his partner. I wasn’t sure what was sure, or if perhaps the Trocks put their weaker members into the male roles, but what could have been some very good dance was really spoiled by the unevenness of the two performances.

The second act was opened with “Patterns in Space,” in which three dancers in leotards moved around the stage in mock-Cunningham style. They were accompanied by two musicians, one in a white, Andy Warhol-style fright wig; the other all in black and looking for the world like one of those art students who has no ability to laugh at themselves. This was even richer because the “instruments” they played included the kazoo, the bowl-and-mixer, the “paper bag,” and (my favorite) bubble wrap. They carried on with utterly straight faces throughout the leaps and twirls of the dancers; to me, it utterly skewered the entire Cunningham approach – random music, random movement, at what point does anyone ever say, “Hey, maybe not everything we’ve made here was not all that great, given its lack of intentionality?” The faces on the performers said it all: Merce is High Art and anyone who does not appreciate, or even questions the sacredness of the canon is to be roasted as An Ignorant Yob. But you know what? I also enjoyed the movement. Yay Trocks!

Now I may be confused about the show order but I do believe it was at the end of the second act that we had our Dying Swan, a large-beaked creature who shed flowers as she faded. Ahhhh after all of the arm waving and piteousness of the various swans I’ve seen expire at the last three galas I’ve been to, it was nice to see a performance that admitted openly the performer was doing it for the attention. And oh, her bony legs … it was like Charlie Chaplin in a tutu.

Our last act’s big production was “Raymonda’s Wedding,” which was back to clowning, with girls sliding out of their positions on stage, a silly white-robed, pointy-hatted priestess sort, and ballerinas jockeying for position. There was a bit of solid dance in the middle, but I liked it most for the curtain call, when the group returned to stage in sombreros and serapes and did a little Mexican hat dance in honor of Mexican Independence day.

Overall, this was a fun night out, but a little odd for me; I think I’d prefer straight ballet dancing, mostly, but it’s good to have the pipes cleaned out now and then.

(This review is for the opening night performance, which took place on September 14th, 2010. The Trocks will continue on at the Peacock through Saturday the 25th.)

Opening night deal: Les Ballets Trockadero Peacock Theatre only £10!

September 8, 2010

UPDATE: 2 for 1 available for Trocks on top price tickets (normally £40 and £35)* Weds 15 – Fri 17 September- for details see LondonDance.com.

Muchas smoochas to the fabulous Cloud Dance Festival for the Twitter heads up to a great deal for the opening night (Tuesday September 14th 2010) of Les Ballets Trockadero at the Peacock Theatre: any seat in the house for £10! Use the code pcdopening if booking online: you will not see the discount prices until you add it to your basket. If you call, use the phrase “Opening Night Offer.”. This is a great group, well worth seeing for both programs, but with a deal like this … how could you miss? I’m not sure if this expires before opening night, but given that the cheapest seat is normally £15, I expect it will sell out soon, and then word of mouth will pack the house for the rest of the run. (This performance, Program one, features ChopEniana / Patterns in Space / La Vivandiere / Raymonda’s Wedding, and should be a delight to ballet expert and novice alike.)

Review – Cirkus Cirkor – Sadler’s Wells at the Peacock Theater

October 21, 2009

If you’re looking for a condensed and spoiler-free review, here’s the short version; I had a good time at this inventive, skillful show and would consider it an evening well-spent at say £20 a ticket. Your price point may vary from mine. Continuing on:

LastMinute.com is the doom of me. I go there to randomly cruise their £10 theater offerings and wind up finding shows I’ve never heard about and suddenly notice I’ve blown my budget. In this case, I saw a plug for Cirkus Cirkor and the picture looked good (“Hey, circus!”) then the next thing you know I’d convinced three other people to go and I was buying a membership at Sadler’s Wells to get a discount on my tickets and, well, it did all wind up costing me more than the £20 I was originally planning on shelling out for two tickets, but not that much if you exclude the price of Sadler’s Wells’ membership. Ah well, all in support of an organization I really like, really.

That said, we had a lot of fun last night in our stalls row U seats at the Peacock Theater (a little of the top of the stage was blocked by the balcony but no action took place there so no great loss). As per the last two shows I’ve seen there (including Les Sept Doigts de la Main, another circus troupe), the concept is having a show built around a story that lets the performances shine. I liked Cirkus Cirkor’s throughline – a woman plucked from normality is exposed to strange creatures and situations and winds up having to push herself to realize her dreams. Of course, what it really was was a series of circus acts of the human variety – balancing acts, acrobats, jugglers, aerialists – but with an interesting way of transitioning between acts. It also had very different “characters” from what might think of as circus “types” – an all white clown, two straight people, “the world’s strongest woman and her daughter,” a juggler, and a bizarre hairy-legged troll in a tutu (who pranced around en pointe and was generally weird). Rather than just giving up on tradition altogether, I felt this set-up allowed the group to better maintain their theme, while bending tradition, in a way that better framed their story and made it more believable.

But of course one does not go to the circus to see a play, one goes to be entertained and wowed. My “wow” moments were the athletic and gorgeous trapeze duet with the two women, which showed flexibility, agility, strength (from both of them!) and, most importantly to me, inventiveness in the use of a very tired vernacular.

I also oohed and awed and gasped at the juggler, who performed a thrilling routine (with balls and hoops and pins and two helpers throwing him things in addition to doing headstands and stuff) that utterly focused my attention. It helped that it was done to a solo drum accompaniment that really heightened the tension. In fact, I should offer kudos to the band, whose thoughtful songs helped turn many of the pieces from acts into moments. Circus Contraption may have had crazier songs but Irya’s Playground were far more than accompaniment – not just backing but providing an extra show alongside the main attraction. Really, the evening was better than any circus style show I’ve seen since moving to London (even if, per per my former Cirque friend who sat beside me, the balancing act was wholly derivative of Cirque de Soleil’s “Allegria” – I wouldn’t have known or noticed) and I’m glad I went – as was, I’d assume, the loudly cheering audience. What a change from the limp applause of a normal night at the theater! My guess is that this will be a very successful run, especially given how poor seat availability was for the first week. Get your seats now if you’re interested lest you miss out.

(This review is for a performance that took place on Tuesday, October 20th, 2009. Circus Cirkor continues through October 31st, 2009.)

Review – Les 7 Doigts de la Main’s “Traces” – Peacock Theatre

March 4, 2009

Last night I went with W, Cate, and DJM to see Les 7 Doigts de la Main’s “Traces” show at the Peacock Theatre. I wasn’t entirely sure what to expect – it had been billed as a circus show but was being handled by a theater (Sadler’s Wells) I normally consider as being about modern dance. And yet it was being recommended to me by someone as a kind of Cirque du Soleil thing. What was it going to be about?

Well, as it turned out, it was kind of a post-apocalyptic acrobatic modern dance piece done to a soundtrack that ranged from industrial to rap, with five 20-ish performers who actually took the time to exhibit some personality on stage rather than just being faceless, interchangeable performers. There was sort of a narrative, but not much – it was mostly a series of various stunts with conversation (and occasionally music) between them. One piece was set up as a reality TV show, but it was mostly a set up for people doing back flips off of a teeter-totter. Far more interesting were the pure motion bits, such as the tumbling routines that opened the show, the runs and flips off of vertical poles that closed out the first act, and the dives, jumps, and flights (practically) through hoops that ended it. I really enjoyed the male/female balancing act in the first act (though it made me think of the much more emotionally engaging Circus Contraption with nostalgia, this despite the high emotion of the performance in question) and the very unusual “man trapped in giant metal hula hoop” thing in the second act, which was completely unique in my memory.

I enjoyed the hard edge of this troupe, with their utterly unshowy costumes and industrial set, but I felt that with the very high quality of acrobatics involved, it could have been so much more. La Clique utterly embraces the “fun cabaret” thing, though the performances are of mixed quality; Circus Contraption creates a wonderful “Edward Gorey Goes to the Carnival” atmosphere that compensates for not having professionally trained acrobats among their numbers (and their costumes are great – willpower overcoming budget, I think). While I liked Les 7 Doigts de la Main’s aesthetic and really appreciate their skills, I hope that the next time they come through they will have thought up a more compelling way to display their talents. Still, it was a good night out, and I would certainly recommend it (as long as you get discount tickets).

(“Traces” continues at the Peacock Theatre through March 14th. This review is for a performance that took place on March 3rd.)