Posts Tagged ‘Royal Opera House’

Mini-review – Ormindo – Royal Opera at Shakespeare’s Globe – Sam Wanamaker Playhouse

April 11, 2014

Less than a month after my unfortunate visit to the Sam Wanamaker Playhouse to see The Knight of the Burning Pestle, I was back in the side balcony for a stab at what I thought might be a more successful evening – a production of 17th century opera L’Ormindo (by Cavalli). Afterall, what I’d enjoyed the most about the last production had been the music (authentic Jacobean! this with singing by the Royal Opera!) and the playhouse itself (smells like beeswax!), so why not focus on the positives and see if a better evening resulted?

I’m pleased to say that even with a candy-floss plot, Ormindo was a charming evening, enhanced greatly by the decision to have the singers performing in English. (When I realized I might be heading for an evening of supertitles in a theater where half of the seats can’t see various areas of the stage, I got a bit worried.) I got to stretch my brain to try to follow along with the lyrics as sung – a big of a new experience for me – and I did well without a single crib note.

The performance was done tongue-in-cheek from the start, with “MUSIC” (you could tell because it was spray-painted on her robe) descending from overhead and giving us all a lecture on what a wonderful temple we were about to worship her in; it was clear that we didn’t need to get TOO serious about our high art. Our “hero,” Ormindo (Samuel Boden), competes with Amidas (Ed Lyon) for the love of Erisbe (Susanna Hurrell); the boys have a pectoral contest and even go for “my tattoo is bigger than yours” one upsmanship. Side characters complain about the local morals and are groped from the trap door; Erisbe appears on stage wearing a bed.

But the tomfoolery in no way indicated shortcuts artistically; the singing and musicianship were wonderful. I loved the (counter?)tenor duets of Boden and Lyon, and the harpsichord-led orchestra (in period costume) well-satisfied my Early Music ear.

And yet, still, after two hours, I took advantage of the second interval and made a break for it. It’s not that it wasn’t enjoyable, and the Farinelli-like presence of Princess Sicle’s nurse Eryka (Harry Nicoll) was a wonder to behold and to hear sing; but in some ways it had gotten a bit samey-samey. My bum had gone numb on the thinly padded benches, and since I’d just blown my sleep budget on a three hour long show the night before at the National, it seemed that going home would be the best thing. Still: I felt I’d got £40 out of what I did see; and when I got back to work I booked for two more shows there. The Sam Wanamaker Playhouse has taken a place in my short list of the most beautiful buildings in the world, next to the Pantheon, the Asamkirch in Munich, and the lunchrooms at the V&A; I plan to go regularly – but perhaps less on schoolnights.

(This review is for a performance that took place on Tuesday, April 8th, 2014. The run ends on April 12th.)

Review – Alice in Wonderland – Royal Ballet

March 3, 2011

Alice in Wonderland is not just a favourite book for me, but a favourite theme; for puppet shows, for costume parties, for clothing. It’s like Christmas fairy dust for me: sprinkle some on to whatever you’re doing, and with luck the sparkle will stick. I can’t avoid the call of the Alice any more than some people can wrestle down the attraction of the Olympics or events involving royalty. And thus, in a world in which I love ballet but my hometown team keeps tossing overly-lengthy, spirit-deadening tragedies (Manon, Mayerling) or treacley kiddy fluff (Beatrix Potter, Cinderella) at me, it was with a supernova of excitement I read that the end of winter was going to feature a Royal Ballet, NEW production of Alice. Yippie ki-yi-yay! Top notch dancers, a fat budget, brand-spanking new choreography (always something to be happy about) … my hopes were high!

As usual, I avoided all media coverage before my designated night (including the Ballet Bag girls’ stint as guest Tweeters for the Royal Opera House, although I knew it was happening), so I had no idea that the music was by Joby Talbot, creator of the amazing music that accompanied Wayne MacGregor’s Chroma, or that Simon Russell Beale was apparently doing a Dame (not the red queen thank goodness), but I did know that Chris Wheeldon, founder of Morphoses, was handling the choreography (which Twitter scuttlebutt declared an “audition” of some sort). I didn’t recall being particularly impressed by his choreography on previous outings, but … hey, Alice!

I’m not going to pussyfoot around with a lot of “this is good” and “this is bad” but just get to the meat of it: the first 70 minutes is pants, but the second “half” (50 or so minutes) spanks it six ways to Sunday, so much that it almost seems like two entirely different shows welded together by an intermission. Had, perhaps, Wheeldon spent a year working on “Alice goes to the Queen’s garden” section and completely neglected the rest of the show? The first half managed a fair amount of faith to the text, but the growing/shrinking bit played horribly (too much reliance on projections), the pre-rabbit hold set-up was dull, and Ibi and I were unable to find much in the way of dance for the entire act. Yes, a story was told, yes, there were some great costumes, but, ahem, BALLET. Please to give us the dancing and not just at the very end for the flower dance (which was actually kind of dull).

However, teases of hope were sparked by the delightful handling of the Cheshire cat (proving to me that stage magic is much better created through cardboard and imagination rather than technology) and the brilliant Mad Hatter’s tea party. Fessing up, it was Steve McRae’s tap-dancing hatter that stole the entire first act through the clicking of his hypnotic, metallic toes; I didn’t see what it had to do with the story, but suddenly we had an electric moment on stage and I couldn’t tear my eyes away. It was truly novel and a moment of choreographic genius; and McRae may now be the ideal of the Hatter in my eyes (even though his costume stole a bit too much from Mr. Depps incarnation).

Act Two will forever in my mind be the Dance of the Red Queen (Zenaida Yanowsky), or possibly the Red Queen pas de cinq. The brilliance of this bit is that she is being partnered by four terrified playing cards who are expecting every minute that they are going to be executed. They are afraid not to hold her hand or lift her or turn her, but at the same time they are also clearly revolted by doing so. I’ve never seen such a broadly comic dance like this; it wasn’t coarse like the ugly stepsisters are in Cinderella, but again by upturning the expectations of sweetness (a la the Rose Adagio), it made for some genuine laughs. Whatever else happens to this ballet, this scene alone is a work of genius that I hope I’ll have the opportunity to see again.

As for the rest of the ballet, well, dancing flamingos cute, hedgehog croquet fun, all of the characters chasing each other around the queen’s court dull, Beale wasted, ending returning us to modern times bizarre, Alice’s romance (with the Knave of Hearts, Sergei Polunin) absolutely not in the original and too much of a change for me to accept. Maybe if her duets with the Knave had been more exciting I would have felt differently, but as it is it seems like the romance was introduced to allow for the dances, and they were, well, forgettable. As was almost all of Alice’s dancing. And this is a shame, because Lauren Cuthbertson is no clod-hopping pig herder (stage roles aside), but she, like the production, never had much opportunity to show off her brilliant moves. Still, the second act was SO very much better we about forgave the first. Trust me Mr. Wheeldon; you must let the story take care of itself, as the secret to successful adaptations is to make a work of art that is good in the medium in which it is presented, not to be utterly faithful to the original.. Go back to it, cut and redesign, put Alice in blue and let her dance brilliantly in a shorter first act, and suddenly this ballet will become something we’ll all be cheering for.

(This review is for a performance that took place on Wednesday, March 2nd, 2011. The final performance of Alice will be Tuesday, Marcy 15th.)

Review – Anna Nicole – Royal Opera House

February 24, 2011

The Jerry Springer: The Opera people take on the story of Anna Nicole Smith, “former stripper, Playmate of the year, single mom.” I mean, what really could go wrong? It’s not like I don’t already hate pretty much every modern opera I’ve ever seen and that this wasn’t just a blatant attempt to sex up the Royal Opera House with some more of that moronic celebrity-worshiping mentality that’s currently stinking up the West End.

Except, well, I loved it. It was really fun and lighthearted and blasted the cobwebs right out of the dusty old hall. From the excessive swearing on stage to the heaving, much-younger crowd in the seats, everything was new and different and exciting. The audience laughed! Frequently! There was a chorus and what they said was interesting! And funny!

Okay, well, I have to be honest and admit … the music. It was still kind of the same old boring modern opera stuff that just doesn’t ever grab you (well, me) or send you home with a spring in your step and a tune in your heart. Mark-Anthony Turnage did not give us a “Jerry Springer Moment” (fair enough as it was lyricist Richard Thomas who composed the music for that show) but I wish he could have done a little more to put some musical into the music.

Fortunately, the lyrics, story, and staging loomed so high – spilling all the way up the curtain (hot pink!) and to the image of Anna Nicole floating over the orchestra pit – that it was hard to get a head of steam about the notes coming out of people’s mouth (and the orchestra pit). Instead, we were sucked into a comi-tragic tale of a girl with not much going for her who tries to make a life in which she is, and means, something. It could have all been very ugly – wanting fame without accomplishment isn’t very admirable – but she’s built up very sympathetically, with an evil lawyer (Gerald Finley) taking most of the blame for the camera-chasing while Anna Nicole (Eva-Maria Westbroek) is supposedly just trying to get herself and her son out of poverty.

Yet despite the comic-book level of jokiness and crass humor, I felt we were shown very plainly just what a real soul-crushing situation being poor is. Stepfathers who try to grab you, men who get angry when you get pregnant, relatives with dead end lives who only show interest if you have money … a lifetime of working at WalMart, smiling at people who sneer at you and hoping you never get sick because you don’t have health insurance and can’t afford to go to the hospital. Really, if this is what you have to look forward to, why not be a stripper? I mean, hey, in this country, aren’t they trying to push it on poor unemployed women anyway? (How long before they just tell all poor women to get jobs as prostitutes?) Stripping is ethical and if you want to be a success, gigantic boobs is the way to go. And when you think about it, Anna Nicole didn’t lie or cheat or backstab or hurt other people to get out of poverty … she just took what little she had and tried to make the most of it.

Meanwhile, we’re treated to a series of songs that illustrate and frequently amuse – songs about not having boobs, songs about the benefits of getting big boobs, songs about names for boobs (sense a theme?), songs about drugs, songs about what it takes to get by when your primary asset is your body – but underlying it all is this big fat sense of tragedy. Anna Nicole gets attention and money, but she’s still having to sell herself for it. She has pretty shoes and a big house, but her hold on these material objects is as tenuous as the grasp on life of her octogenarian husband (Alan Oke, in fine voice and looking good in gold lame’). We can all rejoice that she’s managed to get that wedding ring on her finger – and the marriage is the highlight of the brilliant act one – but what is left for her?

The answer is: getting old, getting fat, losing her money but trying to hang on. Act two becomes very sad, focused on her attempts to grasp or find more dough while she’s not really able to exert real control over her life. She’s pathetic and insipid on TV, but her lawyer just keeps encouraging her to go out and make a fool of herself, while dropping clues to journos about when they can find her getting out of a car and forgetting to wear panties. Wow, this is the big time? It seemed so fitting that we’d see this sad woman using the toilet on stage (like the pole dancers an opera house first for me). She was cheap, she was cheapened, she was disgusting. And yet all the way through … she stayed sympathetic. I was a little worn out at the end – even the giant nodding doggies couldn’t make her decline fun – but overall this is one of the most exciting operas I’ve ever attended, and I’m thrilled that I had the chance to see it.

(This review is for the performance that took place on Wednesday, February 23rd, 2011. There are three more performances with the final on Friday March 4th. It’s sold out, but don’t worry; regular work with the F5 button will likely produce a seat.)

Cheap world class opera: see Royal Opera’s “Niobe, Queen of Thebes” from the stalls for £40

September 22, 2010

A great deal came through from Travelzoo today: stalls tickets for “Niobe, Queen of Thebes” at the Royal Opera House for £40. It’s by “Italian composer Steffani (1654–1728)” (saith the Royal Opera House website) and is receiving a rather late debut in London.
Here’s the scoop from their website:

Amphitheatre seats are now available for £18 (usually £28 and £22.50), while top-price Orchestra stalls seats are now £40 (usually £115, £107, £102 or £95 each).

There are no booking fees and no credit card charges. This offer is available for performances on 27, 29 September at 6.30pm and 3 October at 3pm. Call and quote promo code TZOO Niobe Offer (click through link above to do online booking).

Review – Cinderella – Royal Ballet at the Royal Opera House

April 11, 2010

Boaters have their annual opening day, but ballet and opera fans have one of their own: first day of sale for the general public for the season at the Royal Opera House. It’s a bit of a madhouse, with the ROH computers inevitably maxing out their capacity and the lucky ones merely having a sign on the computer saying “You are 1263rd in line. This page will continue to refresh. You are 1239th in line. This page will continue to refresh,” while you sit there going completely crazy imagining everyone is stealing all of the good seats while you are stuck in the ROH equivalent of purgatory, waiting for that magic moment when the page finally refreshes to show the normal calendar. It’s particularly maddening because most of the other pages on the ROH website are blanked out at the same time, so you can’t see any details about the various performances that are for sale so that you can prepare yourself (if you haven’t already done so, possibly with a paper copy of the season schedule): what will you want to buy when your time finally comes?

For me the whole thing becomes like one of those contests involving mad dashes through a grocery store, tossing as many things in your basket as you can before the time runs out and your golden opportunity is lost. When my number came up for the spring season, the “meat” aisle for me was “35 quid main floor tickets for Royal Ballet Triple Bill featuring Wayne Macgregor!” But then I still had some time left, and I went and poked around the rest of the season to see what the Royal Ballet had on offer. “La Fille Mal Gardee?” It looked (and was) cute. “Cinderella?” I’d never seen it before, and look, the first performance was on a Saturday, at 12:30, making it cheaper and easier to attend than a weeknight performance. In the basket it went, and off to the ballet I went yesterday, freshly back from my Easter travels and basically utterly ignorant of what I was going to see.

My faith was well rewarded. We started with a beautiful score by Prokofiev – I’d never heard it, although I like his music quite a lot, and as we settled down into our “normal” amphitheater seats (slightly blocked view, little leg room, great price), I caught the gorgeous, skilled notes of one of the three masters of ballet music composition. The choreography was by Frederick Ashton, one of the two men whose style is a touch point of the entire Royal Ballet style and repertoire, but someone whose work I am still just learning about. I knew as an “Ashton,” this meant it was likely to be rather old feeling (at least 40 years), and that the costumes might be just a wee bit on the dusty side, but my guess was that it was all going to feel very classical and “just right,” exactly what you want for a story ballet.

The setup itself is a bit different than the Cinderella I have in my head (which nowadays is a thin pastiche of the old fairly tale over a thick chunk of Disney, the whole thing wrapped in a ribbon of English Panto). We open with Cinderella (Alina Cojocaru) in front of her fireplace, stepsisters (Luke Heydon, Wayne Sleep) sitting nearby acting crudely, with no stepmother in sight (I thought the taller one was the mother based on how familiar she was with Mr. Ella, but per the program it was just the sisters), and a loving but witless father (Christopher Saunders) who couldn’t seem to stop his daughters from spending what little is left of his fortune. A noticeably missing character is the “evil” stepmother; her absence means there was a lot less drama and unhappiness in this version (and certainly no chopping off of toes like in the Lyric Hammersmith’s rather too faithful play). Indeed, with the gawky, cross-gender sisters, this version seemed to very much lean toward the Panto tradition, with lots of hamming, clumsy goofball dancing bits involving the Uglies, and jokes (in pantomime) about how ugly they actually are – plus the requisite stunningly heinous dresses. I’m glad I’ve been to enough Panto to “get” them; my guess is that for non-English audiences, the production’s emphasis on these two characters might have been confusing.

But we also had lots of ballet fun, especially in the drawn-out scene in which Cinder’s fairy godmother (Laura Morera) whisked her away to the “land of the fairies” (not a scene I remember from any other version!), where four fairies representing four different seasons do lovely little dances capturing the spirit of their seasons, with a cute boy and girl in appropriate costume accompanying them (reminding me of 18th century English country paintings); award for most brilliant costume had to go to icicle-gauntleted Winter (Hikaru Kobayashi), whose entrance in a cloud of smoke was truly dramatic. That said, Cinderella’s transformation was a little less than wow, and the pumpkin just seemed to be begging for Robert Wilson to get a hold of it (in fact I propose he design ROH’s new version of it in another 3 years – this one is due for a face lift) even though the pretty boy-drawn carriage that showed up to carry her away did seem most ethereal.

Then we’ve got the fun of act 2, set at court where the jester (Paul Kay) makes more of an impression than anyone else; our prince (Rupert Pennefather) winds up feeling a bit of a cipher next to him, especially with the Uglies parading around with two mismatched “suitors” (Gary Avis, Michael Stojko) in a rather heavy-handed scene I felt tired out its welcome long before it left. (The same sort of gag was done much less painfully in “Elite Syncopations.”) Cinders finally shows up, the prince falls in love, they dance, it’s midnight, we duck out for some ice cream, and in two shakes of a lamb’s tail (and 25 minutes of interval) the star-spangled toe shoe is reunited with its owner (who has to hurry off stage to actually get some tied on properly) and BANG it’s over. Two intervals, 3:10 running time, WHOOSH it’s done before you know it!

I’m afraid to say that throughout most of this ballet, I was having such a good time and being so enchanted by the show that I just utterly forgot to put my reviewer hat on and took no notes whatsoever of the performance (other than to tell myself that I must learn more proper ballet terms so I can discuss things properly with Those In The Know). Alina Cojocaru was just sweet and breathless (and apparently weightless) as Cinderella, reminding me of how incredibly spoiled I am to be able to expect such excellence in both dancing and characterization simply by virtue of having bought a ticket for this great company. Rupert Pennefeather, well, he doesn’t even show up until Act II, does he, and he doesn’t have too much to do – I don’t think the prince’s choreography was nearly as excellent as it could have been (I never had the “wow” feeling I did today while watching a selection from Don Quixote), but he carried the role well. And, damn, if there’s ever a ballet that makes little girls wish they could be ballerinas, it would be Cinderella, and with this score I have to say, it made me glad to live in a city where such riches at these are forever at my doorstop. A most excellent afternoon and highly recommended.

(This review is for a performance that took place on Saturday, April 10th, 2010. It continues through June 5th. Remember, ballet doesn’t have to be expensive; my amphitheater seats were great, though I was so distracted by the costumes I found myself wishing I was sitting much closer. For another view, please see The Arts Desk.)

Review – MacMillan Triple Bill (Concerto, Judas Tree, Elite Syncopations) – Royal Ballet at the Royal Opera House

March 26, 2010

Kenneth MacMillan and Frederic Ashton have been the two mystery choreographers of England whose style I was in complete ignorance of before moving here nearly four years ago. Thanks to Pacific Northwest Ballet, I was well versed in the work of Balanchine (and had come to expect nothing but top-notch performances of same), as well as Jerome Robbins and a wonderful assortment of modern choreographers. But the English style was a mystery to me, and when I moved here, I was surprised to see that these two men had a veritable library of ballets created of which I had seen not one. This was a gap in my balletic knowledge.

I have to say, I have not warmed up to this choreography. I saw Manon in 2005 or so (on a trip – can’t find the date anywhere so that’s when I think it was) and found it rambling, brutal, and generally unappealing, my only positive memories being a pas de trois with some truly amazing manipulation of the lead ballerina by the two men partnering her. And Mayerling, which I saw this fall despite suspecting I wouldn’t enjoy it, was a grind. But, still, I feel that I should be able, if not to enjoy Ashton’s depressing full-length ballets, to at least be able to identify his style. Nobody gets that much work in the dance world unless they have real talent, and, in this case, I fully believe that my inability to enthuse indicated a gap in my understanding. Not liking depressing full-length dance evenings, well, that makes sense to me, but I do really want to understand MacMillan’s style. And, well, I love triple bills and the opportunity they give you to see a wide variety of dance in one evening. I’d also scored some £6 amphitheater seats, so come 7:30 last night, my thought was, bring it on!

First up was “Concerto,” a piece from 1966, was an abstract ballet, with sunny orange, yellow, and red costumes. Sadly, it didn’t make too much of an impression on me. Yuhui Choe and Steve McRae looked really good and moved together nicely, but I found Hikaru Kobayashi’s forward-propelled leaps more memorable. The problem was that with “The Judas Tree” nipping on its heels and a high-powered, brilliantly costumed suite of dances to ragtime music at the end of the night, “Concerto” was just overwhelmed.

“The Judas Tree” was billed as “controversial,” and I suppose a ballet in which a dancer is raped would probably generate a lot of talk. However, I found it more ridiculous that she was forced to stand there holding her hand over her crotch afterwards as if we hadn’t understood what had happened, and that the person who’d set her up for this (in the context of the story, “The Foreman”) was so indifferent. I would expect either sympathy or brutality but instead the choreography showed cluelessness – just not a realistic response. I found the piece just painfully belabored and overdone, lacking in subtlety and clarity. “The Woman” (Leanne Benjamin), she’s a madonna (“look, she’s got a cape on”), she’s a whore (“ooh, she’s flirting with a lot of the men”), but really, all she was with her costume on was a ballerina. She didn’t look like a hooker brought in from off the streets, and if she was supposed to be The Foreman’s girlfriend, she should have been wearing something a little bit more street (hot pants and a tube top would have been perfect). This would have really cranked up the emotional drama but as it was I was unable to connect. Carlos Acosta did some nice leaps in the beginning (when he wasn’t the center of attention), Edward Watson acted his shoes off (the man is great), and it was interesting to watch Leanne “walking” on all of the construction workers hands, but the end, with murder, a suicide, and Leanne shaken to death, just didn’t work. I think part of this was because she had already appeared to have been killed once. My vote for this ballet: incoherent. A shame really, as it seemed to have so much potential with its great set and fab male cast, but it just didn’t hit it. I could about imagine going back to watch what was happening with the rest of the crew when Leanne was swanning around in the front of the stage, but it won’t take the taste of “opportunity missed” out of my mouth. The audience did not receive this piece well and I don’t think it could solely be blamed on the darkness of its ending.

Much like a child getting a lollipop after a trip to the dentist, we, the audience, were treated to “Elite Syncopations” after the hard work of “The Judas Tree.” My reaction to it was, of course, totally contaminated by my desire to have a good time, but I’ll pretend that wasn’t the case. I thought “Elite Syncopation” was great, right up there with “Les Patineurs” as a fab, fun ensemble piece, but even better because it had wonderful music (I love ragtime), amazing costumes (I couldn’t focus properly on the dancing because of them) and lighthearted, lovely dancing that put more recent attempts at the “dancers in a ballroom” to shame (sorry, Northern Ballet). I loved the references to the dances of the era, I thought Steve McRae was fab as a twinkle-toed high-flyer, I found the Hot House rag with the four man a treat – it was just lovely. And the whole time, at the back of the stage, a similarly manic-costumed band was burning it up. I can only imagine wanting to see this over and over again, just to get swept up in the magic.

So – a mixed bill, a mixed bag, and at the end I didn’t feel any closer to understanding what makes Kenneth MacMillans “style” anymore than I did before (other than a tendency to do complex partnerings with women). That said, it was a good night and good programming, and I’ll keep working at getting Mr. MacMillan worked out since there’s no shortage of his work to be seen now that I’m over here.

(This review is for a performance that took place on Wednesday, March 24th, 2010. The MacMillan Triple Bill continues through April 15th, 2010.)

Ballet review – As One, Rushes, Infra – Royal Ballet at the Royal Opera House

February 23, 2010

On Friday I went to the Royal Opera House to catch the world premiere of “As One,” the first mainstage ballet create by Jonathan Watkins of the Royal Ballet. I always try to catch triple bills like this one, but there was the extra added bonus of highly affordable stalls seats and a Wayne MacGregor ballet to entice me to come. Still, brand new ballet! It’s always a cause to celebrate.

While I’m happy that Royal Ballet is giving new choreographers the experience of working on the mainstage, I’m afraid “As One” didn’t really gel for me, despite the generally enthusiastic reception it’s received elsewhere (see Ballet.co.uk for the long list). The varied scenes, moving from random dancing to a party to people sitting in a waiting room, seemed to have little common thread linking them, and individually, while there was perhaps some interesting movement, I wasn’t able to catch a real narrative to make the arabesque HERE mimed use of channel changer HERE form any kind of coherent whole. The best scene to me was Laura Morera and Edward Watson’s “Channel Surfing” scene, in which a couple dealt with the familiar “all you do is watch TV, you never pay attention to me” conundrum, though I didn’t really feel it worth of depiction on stage. However, their interaction was very real, and lent itself to the final sequence of the ballet, which seemed to be saying “If only we could get into that little box, we could actually be living real lives – or maybe it’s the fantasy we need to bring into reality.” While I enjoyed Simon Daw’s flexible set design, I found the production overall a limp squib, one that I think won’t be getting remounted anywhere else and will be lucky even to be revived again. Still, I’m glad to have seen it, and I’m looking forward to watching Watkins grow over time.

Next up was “Rushes,” a piece I’d not seen before, but given that the music was by Prokofiev and Carlos Acosta was going to be providing an (unexpected for me) star turn, I was feeling pretty positive about the possibilities. This ballet was full of mysteries for me (especially since I hadn’t shelled out for a program – why have they become so expensive?), but, watching the movie projected on the bead screen at the front of the stage and the strange Expressionist set behind, I decided to read it as a story about a person who’d fallen in love with a movie star (Laura Morera, the woman in the red dress) – not a real person, but someone who only existed inside of the movies (sort of like Neil Gaiman’s short story “Goldfish Pond”). As I read it, he was able to break into his fantasy world, but was ultimately rejected by it and forced to return to reality, where poor Alina Cojocaru was still waiting for him.

Carlos was, as ever, a great partner – well, okay, he did actually look like he was having a problem getting Alina over his shoulders smoothly – and he performed cartwheels and hanstands effortlessly. Still, there’s something increasingly heavy about how he moves, and he’s having a hard time holding the stage after Steve McRae comes on. This production seemed well suited to the Carlos persona, however, and instead of wincing at overacting, instead I was able to just enjoy his unfettered displays of passion. And yay for Kim Brandstrup, I really enjoyed this ballet.

In keeping with the night’s theme of “the inability to make human connection,” we finished with MacGregor’s “Infra,” a work I’d seen before. This was much improved by being watched from the stalls, as from my normal upper amphitheater seats, Julian Opie’s videoscape of animated people walking across the upper half of the stage (hanging in the air) is on equal weight with the actual people and very difficult to ignore. Now I could really focus on the dancers, and, as ever, given amazing choreography, they rose to the challenge. Like last time, the most can’t-tear-your-eyes away moment was the duet Erik Underwood performed with (was it?) Sarah Lamb, a tiny slip of a woman (perhaps the same couple MacGregor used in “Limen” though I’m not sure).

I spent some time trying to understand why this duet was so much more emotionally powerful than the ones that were taking place even within the same work, and I think it came down to them making eye contact with each other throughout; instead of the woman just being manipulated by the man, she was a full partner in what they were doing, and the effect was heady, not to mention erotic (the undulating hips added to it a lot). I knew what was coming, though; the dance would lead to the point of abandonment, the tiny blonde curled up on stage, wrecked, while the many other people – the tide of humanity – walked by her. There are so many of us and yet it is so hard to connect with each other, and it’s heartbreaking to be reminded of our essential loneliness. Still, to feel like that watching ballet on stage is actually rather uplifting – it’s a wonderful place to find beauty in sadness, and a great feeling to walk out into the night with. Overall, this was a good triple bill, and I’m really glad to have been there.

(This review is for a performance that took place on Friday, February 19th, 2010. The program continues through March 4th.)

Review – The Rake’s Progress – Royal Opera House

February 3, 2010

My interest in seeing the Royal Opera’s version of The Rake’s Progress broke down into two main components. First, I like Stravinsky. I’ve never seen one of his operas, though, but gotta go, right? Second, it was directed by totally famous rock star level director dude Robert Lepage. I mean, I haven’t exactly seen anything he’s done before, but all of the pictures are very cool. And, hey, I found some cheap little seats for 16 quid up in the Amphitheater. And it was going to be in English!

*sigh*

Why oh WHY couldn’t my memories of this show be of something besides the set design? Lepage (who I kept wanting to call Leplant, blame Led Zeppelin) was really wowtastic from start to finish, even though this wasn’t brand spanking new, it was only from 2007 so pretty damned close to cutting edge. This was clear even in the first scene, where the backdrop of animated clouds (over a field, as it were, seemingly in America’s Midwest) moved gently but not self-aggrandizingly, managing even to add to the feeling on stage by becoming darker as the story moved forward and Tom Rakewell (Toby Spence) made his deal with Nick Shadow (not sure who played it this night) and sealed his doom. Wow, Lepage actually gets how to incorporate animation in a way that works! It basically made me think from the very start, “Yep, we’re in the hands of a master here!”

And the miracles continue – the bed that sucks into the stage when Tom Rakewell is “claimed” by Madame Mother Goose (Frances McCafferty), the AMAZING inflatable airstream trailer that is blown up through a tiny hole in the stage, the wee, wee little house with the shadow in the windows representing Mr. Trulove trying to figure out where his daughter Anna (Rosemary Joshua) has gone while she runs around (mostly) in front of the stage as if she’s very, very far from the house. God, I loved the house. And then Anna in her car, with her scarf pulling behind her as if in the wind, finally caught (on a string) and blown away in a beautiful “moment.”

So many moments. So very boring.

According to someone who knows opera much better than I do, whom I heard as I walked toward the exit (at the interval), Toby Spence had a great voice for this part, a very youthful sound but also very strong despite the fact that he was really carrying a lot of stage time. Rosemary Joshua was judged to have not quite his stamina and to have been tiring noticably during the final scene.

I could sympathize, really. While I enjoyed the recitative (I think that’s the right word) moments that had a very 18th century sound to them that I like (will have to research how Stravinsky came up with the score), the rest of the music just wasn’t grabbing me. When the interval came, I realized I was only staying for the spectacle, and I just didn’t care enough about the singing or the rest of the music to want to stay. I’d got my money’s worth, but I was wishing I’d just given up on the tickets and gone to see another Ozu movie at the BFI instead, and angry that it was now so late that I couldn’t possibly see the last showing of Late Autumn. A bad sign, really. But, you know, Chando’s Opera Room was just a short walk away and I did manage to end the evening on a high note – just not one that was coming from a stage.

(This review is for a performance that took place on Saturday, January 30th, 2010. I am going to try to see Tamerlano, which I’m hoping I will enjoy more as it’s an era I groove on more. Ping me if you have some tips for cheap tix as it’s way out of my price range even in the amphitheater.)

Back from vacation – June theater schedule

June 4, 2009

While I might do a writeup comparing the various aquariums I saw on my trip to other aquariums I’ve been to (and which was the best), or possibly comparing the shows at Marineworld France versus Seaworld Orlando … instead I’m catching up with work.

Theatergoing tends to slow down for me during the summer months – it’s hard to get motivated to go inside a dark theater when there are so many exciting things going on outside. (Not that Company at the Union Theatre wouldn’t get people to crawl out of their deathbeds, but it’s hard to know in advance.) I get in my usual Russian ballet treat in August, but mostly summers are more about hanging out with my friends and going to the coast.

At any rate, for readers of this blog (the five of you), what’s coming up for this month is:
7 June Sunday: Diaghilev tribute at the Royal Opera House (with a motley crew performing it)
8 June Monday: Phedre, National Theatre
9 June Tuesday: England (at the Whitechapel Gallery – site specific performance overcomes my dislike of being inside during the summer)
11 June Thurday: Been So Long at the Young Vic
13 June Saturday: Lulu, Royal Opera House
22 June Monday: Doll’s House at the Donmar
23 June Tuesday: Eonnagata, Sadler’s Wells
30 June Tuesday, the thing I’m most looking forward to: Forbidden Broadway at the Menier Chocolate Factory.

Note this joke publicity feature: the National Theater has announced that two plays “from acclaimed Japanese playwright Yukio Mishima” are to be performed in London. Let’s be clear: Mishima is an acclaimed novelist, but the play most recently produced that he authored (Madame De Sade) was uniformly trashed for being, well, a piece of crap, no fault of the performers. I suspect that the producers will seriously regret taking on this project, which only really has value for noveltly. I mean, TS Eliot was a great poet, but even he wasn’t a good playwright.

Review – Mixed Bill (Les Sylphides, Sensorium, The Firebird) – Royal Ballet at the Royal Opera House

May 5, 2009

Last night I hustled off of a southbound train and dashed to the ROH for a triple bill that included the debut of a new work. I love seeing new stuff; it’s the dance equivalent of a new life being brought into the world. The program itself was the typical mix of “don’t scare ’em off” stuff that usually comes with a new piece, in this case Les Sylphides (one of the all time classic, old school white ballets) and The Firebird (which I love and had seen for a second time this fall at Sadler’s Wells), with the new piece as the filling to this sandwich. Fortunately with such solid “bread” I was easily able to convince two more people to come with, so it was C, J, W and myself filling our upper balcony seats.

When I’d booked the tickets, the title of the new work wasn’t known, but with the cast list clenched in my hands, I saw that I was to see “Sensorium,” by Alastair Marriott, a choreographer I hadn’t heard of before. (Apparently he used to be an ROH dancer.) The music was to be by Debussy, and tonight was the premiere. What luck! But first we had Les Sylphides, a dance I had never seen before – well, I think: I might have seen the Trockaderos performing it over fifteen years ago! The music was extremely familiar, but I guess it being Chopin means it’s not exactly obscure. Unfortunately the vestigal memories of the Trocaderos made it a bit hard to get comfortable with the ballet’s extremely traditional aesthetic, which was seeming at times a bit too precious and dying to have a man on toe shoes stomping through it. Still, it was lovely to watch and gorgeous to listen to, but a review can pretty much only say, “It was Les Sylphides done well” – I don’t feel like there’s any more to add to it than that. It’s a big pack of girls in fluffy white skirts and little wings posing and dancing – though watching one dancer doing a move that required her to step on her foot, then somehow spring backwards onto her toe, then down again, then up, moving slowly backwards on the stage, made me think that ballerinas are all just incredibly brave to be able to do something that looked so incredibly painful with an expression on her face that was all beauty and grace. Unfortunately I can’t credit the dancer, but the Valse was danced by Laura Morera, the woman’s Mazurka was performed by Lauren Cuthbertson, and the Prelude was Yuhui Choe – any clues to the proper movement would be welcome.

This confusion reminds me: I really wish I could afford floor seats. In Seattle, I knew the Pacific Northwest Ballet dancers by name all the way to the corps, but here, I don’t even recognize most of the principals after two years. It’s depressing. Maybe remembering to bring my binoculars more will help.

Next was Sensorium. The curtain came up on a stage with a big beige metal swirl backdrop and a bunch of circular spotlights (which at different times would get larger and then smaller) on a cast of aqua and cream clad dancers. It was … not very exciting, and difficult for me to describe it. There was some interesting partnering going on, and while at the beginning I thought I saw traces of William Forsythe, his raw energy wasn’t present. Instead, a man would place a dancer, whom he’d held over his shoulder with her head below her hips then rotated over his body, so that her feet very carefully hit a spot under his bent legs. There was a lot of this very geometrical movement of dancers, but it didn’t seem to have real fire. The corps were fun to watch – I noted that their spins (of many sorts) actually made them look airier than the fairies of the previous dance, though sometimes their movement was not smooth. Overall, my feeling is that this was not a success, and will probably be revived at most once more before being retired. That said, the Debussy music was delicious and actually formed a nice pair with the Stravinsky that followed.

Firebird … it’s hard to talk about this one much when it was so very much the same staging (Fokine’s choreography, Natalia Gontcharova designs) I saw the Birmingham Royal Ballet perform twice in the last two years, though the set looked quite a bit cheaper (especially the apple tree). Mara Galeazzi was a strong and lovely Firebird, Thiago Soares a fairly appropriate Tsavevich with rather not much dancing to do other than partnering Ms. Galeazzi. But there was a panic and otherworldliness missing from her performance that I’d come to love with BRB. Also, the apple-tossing scene with enchanted princesses wasn’t as tight as it should have been – I supposed most ballerinas don’t spend a lot of time playing catch, but when the balls soar perfectly in time to the music it’s a magical experience. While the costumes overall were in keeping with the original design (I would guess), with the strange African and Hopi flavors in the various monsters of the middle section (in which the Tsar fights for his life with the Immortal Kostchei), the final scene just fell completely flat.. It’s a kind of a pageant, in which Ivan Tsarevich and The Beautiful Tsarevna are crowned and receive honors from their subjects (for freeing them from enchantment, I assume) – but, whereas for Birmingham Royal Ballet, this scene had so much gold and pizazz that it looked like a Gustav Klimt painting come to life, the Royal Ballet’s production looked instead like it were modeled after a deck of playing cards that didn’t come to life at all. It was a bit of a letdown that this performance, which could end on such a high note, instead squeaked out like a balloon losing its helium.

Overall, this evening was pleasant enough, but failed to catch fire. Still, it reminded me that I need to see more ballet, and that I’m lucky to have such a great ballet company in town and funded well enough to do original productions several times a year. If I suddenly became rich, you know this is how I’d be leaving my name on the world – adding to the permanent supply of beauty with another lovely ballet.

(This review is for a performance that took place on Monday, May 4th, 2009.)