Posts Tagged ‘Robert LePage’

Mini-review – Playing Cards 1: Spades – Robert LePage at the Roundhouse

February 22, 2013

I have got a problem. I keep getting Robert LePage and Robert Wilson confused with each other. Embarrassingly, I also get Robert Anton Wilson and sometimes Robert Plant muddled together with them into into one giant Robert, writer of the Illuminati trilogy, groundbreaking set designer, famous director, and inspiration for two generation of metalheads.

Unfortunately, I think there’s really only one of them that I really like, and that’s the author. I went to see Playing Cards: Spades at the Roundhouse because I thought I was going to see something by Robert Wilson (since I admired the set work for Einstein on the Beach even if I thought it was slow and dull); instead, it was by the irritating French director who’s really well known but who I’ve found rather unforgivably self indulgent. Playing Cards: Spades represented what I saw as a nadir of his work (not that I have enough to judge it by): an overly long night of technical perfection (including flawless performances) utterly lacking in motive force and emotive power. It was exactly the kind of evening I avoid in either theatrical or cinematic form: too many stories supposedly linked together by the fact that the characters will, at some point, cross each other’s paths (easy enough in a Las Vegas hotel), sassed up with a little sex, a lot of violence, a couple of buckets of humiliation, and a bonus visit from the devil a la Don Giovanni. Yeah, at the end there was a really awesome smoke tornado – the first time I’d ever seen such a thing – but after having been in the theater for two hours and twenty-five minutes, I was beyond caring.

Bonus: front row seats were £15, only 10% of the view was blocked, and you can get up and go pee whenever you want. Negative: two and a half hours of my life are worth more than £15, but you may feel differently.

(This review is for a performance that took place on Thursday, February 21st, 2013. It continues through March 2nd.)

Mini-review – The Blue Dragon – Robert Lepage/Ex Machina at Barbican Center

February 18, 2011

It’s so much easier to really dig into a review for something you love or hate than something you were indifferent about. That’s how I feel about The Blue Dragon, Rober Lepage’s current show at the Barbican. He’s the kind of guy I read about in college, a really snazzy director who Does Cool Stuff, and I had high hopes for this show, especially since I’ve been a sinophile for years and was looking forward to a chance to take my Chinese language skills for a walk and maybe learn a little bit more about “the effervescent paradox that is modern China.”

Well, fiddle-dee-dee to that. While the show had nods to Chinese opera, dance, calligraphy, and customs, it was ultimately just about a French Canadian couple having their own mid-life crises: in short, a “Lifetime ‘Television for Women'” movie presented as a play. The Chinese characters (there was one, Xiao Ling, played by Tai Wei Foo) were seen through their eyes; for him (Pierre, Robert Lepage), as a focus for his lust and ambition; for her (Claire, Marie Michaud), as a producer of the child she wants. Pierre criticizes Claire for wanting a Chinese daughter to be a “pretty little doll that will perform for you, ” but neither of them treat Xiao Ling like anything more than a doll herself. And to me, this play, “about” China, supposedly about modern China, treated it entirely as set dressing for a story that could have been set anywhere. The problem with rich (white) people seeing children from poor (non-white) countries as a commodity was wholly ignored; the question of freedom of expression (or lack of) for Chinese artists was a one-liner; the push-and-pull between a couple severed by decades, or even between a couple (Pierre and Xiao Ling) who have a third party come between them, there was nothing of what could have made this a compelling human drama or something that really illuminated what is going on in modern China.

What we did get was some serious eye candy, mostly in the form of projections that followed the actors perfectly on stage, but also as snow, fish, paintings, and other forms of set dressing. In addition to this, there’s no denying that the sound and lighting design were, as near as I can tell, flawless. It was an ideal play to bring a horde of theater students to show them just what you can do technically (and all within a two hour time frame). It’s just a pity that so much effort was expended in the service of such an empty play.

(This review is for a performance that took place on Thursday, February 17th, 2011. Blue Dragon continues through February 26th. The play is about 30% Chinese, 50% French, and 20% English.)

Review – Eonnagata (remount) – Sylvie Guillem, Robert LePage, and Russell Maliphant at Sadler’s Wells

June 24, 2009

Last winter I spent a frustrating two weeks clicking F5 over and over again, hoping that a pair of tickets would be released for Eonnagata. I had read about this strange story – based on the the Chevalier d’Éon, a French swordsman and spy who was rumored to be both male and female (and pretending to be the other) at different points in hir life – way back in November, but found the concept rather too vague to commit to what with pantos and Nutcrackers occupying my attention; but as the first reviews (and more detail) came out, I became rather frantic to see the show – Japanese ballerina transexual samurai kung fu dance show! It was like every cultural thing I am interested in all rolled into one, and it was desperately, desperately sold out. Fortunately, they announced a second production of the show, and as it seemed to not quite hit perfection (per a critic whose opinions I value highly), I crossed my fingers that while I wouldn’t be able to see the premiere, I might be able to see an improved version of the original without the trouble of the pesky first viewing polluting me. (Really, I was just trying hard to grasp at straws about not getting those tickets.) It was a long wait until the June showtime rolled around, and last night was the great unveiling. WOOO!

Now that I’ve finally seen it, I’ll summarize the evening as “like Guillermo del Toro directing a gender-fluid, Japanese Dangerous Liasons, with fight scenes by Yuen Woo Ping.” It’s not so much a dance show as a production with movement that is just as much about costumes, lighting, and music as anything else. In fact, the dancing was rather thin. Ms. Guillem did do some great things in which her lifted legs looked like extra swords; but it was more as a part of creating a spectacle than dance. I didn’t mind, really. I was hypnotized by the gauzy kimono floating around the performers and hovering behind the creamy scrim (for a sort of human shadow puppet scene), by the strange Lincoln-log pannier skirts, by the stripey fencing pants and knee-high white boots (or stockings), by the dancers slipping across tables, duetting with mirrors (and then with each other) … I was amazed by the way they melded into each other and then were themselves again (especially when a man crawled into the shadow kimono and emerged a woman). Yeah, sure, we weren’t really sticking to the correct culture, but I was completely happy with the use of Chinese/Japanese martial arts weapons and clothing alongside 17th/18th century articles – it looked great and that was good enough for me.

And the lighting design! It helped the performers slip into and out of shadows, it let them end a scene in one spot on the stage gracefully as another “thought” started somewhere else … but my favorite bit was when all three performers were doing staff fighting in little bands of light which changed shape as their staves (or were they swords?) hit the floor – it was like something out of The Matrix or even a video game. It was, in a word, gorgeous.

Was the performance just perfect? Well, no. Russell Maliphant had a horrible clunky moment in which his microphone kept picking up the sound of his clothing dragging across it, and most of the spoken bits seemed completely superfluous and a drag on the evening. The bit where Ms. Guillem was reading letters from the Chevalier’s mother actually made me long for the end to come at last; I was getting tired. And, in the end, I’m afraid it overstayed its welcome. While I was with it for at least sixty minutes, I think around seventy its energy started to flag – and I slid downhill with it.

But, in the end, who cares how historically accurate it was or how much of a dance piece it was, it was a treat for the eyes and engaging and well worth burning a sunny evening indoors. Who knows, maybe it’s in the summer that the best theatre really happens, because that’s when only the most devoted can be convinced to spend their time this way. Overall, it was a very good evening and I’m pleased as punch that I finally got to see it.

(This review is for a performance on June 23rd, 2009. Eonnagata continues through June 27th.)