Posts Tagged ‘Royal Opera House Firsts’

Mini-review – 2010 Royal Opera House Firsts, Second Program – Linbury

November 17, 2010

Tonight I went, once again, to the Linbury for the current installment of the Royal Opera House “Firsts” program. First up was a bizarre projection/rope acrobatics piece, with a through-line (told primarily through a narrated movie) about Frank, a clown in a circus in India. There was a lot of discussion about how the circus is received in India, and a bit about the backstage shenanigans – but it all rang kind of false, like a “This American Life” story brought to life (not helped by the rather flat and very American narration). The projections, which were a movie (at times) and ambient lights (emphasizing the movement of the rope artist) were … well, the good part was when three projected, computer-looped dogs had clowns appear behind them and their faces sort of … melt. It was something that could really only have been done with the technology. However, there was no real dramatic tension, the ropework was flat, and the final image of the clown/rope artist spinning around on top of three plastic children’s play horses didn’t move me. I’d say this wasn’t awful but it was certainly not very exciting.

Next up (after a really unnecessary intermission) was Spiltmilk “Say Dance,” the most obvious audience-pleaser of the night. Spiltmilk Dance took a variety of social dance crazes and turned them, intelligently, on their heads: so we saw “The Twist” done as if each of the three dancers was being, in turn and together, in bits and full bodied, possessed by the spirit of Chubby “St. Vitus” Checker; later we had the joy of the “Birdie” dance, the “Time Warp” and the “YMCA” done to “Eine Kleine NachtMusic.” I haven’t seen a piece so cheefully self-conscious and engaged with the vernacular dance idiom since the Buttrock Suites back in Seattle-land. Oh, the mimed “fox trot” with the pointy ears and the bouncing up and down! I enjoyed this work greatly and am most pleased with these ladies for sticking a big fat ray of sunshine right in the middle of a cold November night. Thanks so much!

Suffering by comparison (as well as proximity to so much joy) was “That Was the Time I Stopped,” a.k.a. the one with the blue spangled hotpants. Two women ran side by side across stage, tussled on the floor, balanced on each other, peeked at each other sideways, readjusted their clothing, and generally filled time in a way that I found not compelling and not too full of narrative. And then it was time for the interval – though considering I wasn’t aching with the desire to leave my seat, this certainly wasn’t the worst of pieces that’s made it into curation for this show.

Last up was “The Man Who Wasn’t There,” a semi-puppet show with an old man (the puppet) wandering around a room full of boxes, listening to the radio, which goes between the shipping weather report, sports, and … well, other things. Two men are packing up the boxes behind him, until … well, the old man appears to be transported back into the time when he worked on a ship, and the men become other sailors. The show continues with him slipping back between the past and the present (which moves from him being moved to him being in a hospital), leaving us with a sense of sadness for the joy (and terror) of life on the ocean. It wasn’t the strongest puppet show I’ve ever seen (you’ll note I’ve been to many, so the bar is high), but it was a very good addition to the evening. Overall, this selection was well chosen and I’m pleased I was able to see it – and am looking forward to the final installment on Friday!

(This review is for a performance that took place on Tueday, November 16th, 2010. This program will be repeated on Wednesday night. The third and final installment takes place on Friday and Saturday, November 19th and 20th – and at £5 a ticket, it’s not to be missed.)
Official ROH Program description


A performance inspired by holy men and Hollywood – an autobiographical fantasy capturing performers’ memories of life on the road with an Indian circus. The piece fuses physical theatre and unique and elegant aerial work with animation and projection to create a strange reality. Milkwood Rodeo was developed with the support of The Roundhouse and Arts Council England.


Performed by the award-winning Spiltmilk Dance company who use their distinctively quirky style to put a new spin on popular social dance crazes of the 20th century. Dance phenomena such as The Twist, Disco and Ballroom are re-imagined to create a completely new dance experience.


Surreal flights of fancy, fears and hallucinations are spliced together by two enigmatic figures to create a makeshift sense of reality. This is darkly humorous dance in stop-frame.


The Man Who Wasn’t There is a glimpse into the life of ‘Albert’ – a man whose memories are fragmented and who is becoming increasingly drawn into a world of senile confusion. Albert’s stories are told through a unique blend of puppetry and circus by London based company Genius Sweatshop. Genius Sweatshop has been gratefully supported by Crying Out Loud, La Breche (Normandy), The Blue Elephant Theatre, Ideas Tap and countless individuals.

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