Posts Tagged ‘sadler’s wells’

Review – Rafael Amargo – Sadler’s Wells 2012 Flamenco Festival

February 18, 2012

With Rafael Amargo the dance segment of the 2012 Flamenco Festival at Sadler’s Wells came to an end. The night was artistically themed: the poems of Federico Garcia Lorca were celebrated in a show called “A Poet in New York.” However, there was no getting away from the fact that the person most truly celebrated this evening was Rafael Amargo. The imagery broadcast on the giant video screens created a great feeling of New York City in the 20s; but for those of us who could not keep up with poetical Spanish, any deeper intimations were missed with the lack of supertitles or any other accomodation for non-Spanish speakers.

Amargo showed us his chops most brilliantly in a ten minute solo (after, I think, “Vuelta a la Ciudad”) in which he was surrounded by his accompanists, whom he commanded with an imperious gesture to inspire him with their singing. Someone got his needs right, apparently, as he finally laid off the peacock-like posing and insistence on seeing himself being the center of attention and actually got excited about dancing. And he smoked the stage, with the brilliant footwork and complete loss of self that to me marks the great dancer. But the rest of the night was polluted with an excess of ego, bad pacing, and some of the naffest pseudo-modern dance I’ve ever seen. The nadir was “Death and Ruin,” a piece in which a woman in a red dress sat on a chair, admired herself in a mirror, did about two dance steps, then rolled herself across the floor in a red scarf while a nearly naked man prowled across the stage, I’d been somewhat prepared by the incredibly bad solo with a woman in a tutu grabbing at giant strips of cloth above her, but this was just laughably bad. And every time Amargo came back on stage, it was all ME ME ME PAY ATTENTION TO ME! A pity, really, as he is a fine dancer but I do think this “having his own company” thing has gone so far to his head that I can’t take him seriously, especially given how bad the choreography frequently was. This was worsened by the horrible pacing, which was extremely masculine in its concept that FAST FAST FAST was all you needed – 100% climax with no build up and a complete lack of thoughtfulness. It was like a 16 year old boy was at the wheel. It needed restructuring and serious cutting: no more tap dancing garden gnomes, no woman treading on her dress’ long skirt, and, frankly, a whole lot less of Amargo standing there with his arms in the air staring at the audience all but saying LOOK HOW AWESOME I AM! I was embarrassed for him. And despite all of the fast banging on stage, I found myself yawning constantly (while my companion actually nodded off). It was an unfortunate end to the festival for me.

(This review is for a performance that took place on February 17th, 2012. It is repeated tonight. Be advised it started nearly 20 minutes late and ran over.)

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Mini-review – Flamenco Gala (Carment Cortes, Rafaela Carrasco, Olga Pericet) – 2012 Sadler’s Wells Flamenco Festival

February 15, 2012

(Blast, a few days after this event and I’m finding myself having a hard time matching names and performances! – ed.)

This year’s flamenco gala at Sadler’s Wells was quite different than the ones I’ve seen before, as instead of operating as a night of short solo performances done in sequence, it was a much more integrated work that had the three stars performing together as well as alternating throughout the evening, with musical interludes and performances by the various male dancers in between the women’s turns on the stage. The result was a more unified flamenco “show,” but one that had much less of the fireworks than previous nights. Highlights included Olga Pericet (in general), who at one point had so much energy going when dancing with two men that I thought there might be blood on the floor (her feet like nervous laughter – I think the song was “I have three hearts”); a trio of men dancing while passing a red hat between them (each trying to be a little bit better than the other, while still sticking to the basic choreography); and Carmen Cortés’ final dance, which showed the young ‘uns how it was done – her musicality taking her entire body and making up for age’s loss of speed and flexibility. Less pleasant were the two female vocal solos done to piano music, and an odd flamenco-done-to-cello thing that just seemed entirely too forced to be pleasant for me. I was dozy and uninvolved during the various vocal interludes, which is odd as I do like flamenco singing but the soloists in this show were not engaging. Overall, this was an enjoyable night, but had too many gaps to be a memorable one.

(This review is for a performance that took place on Saturday, February 1th, 2012. For an alternate view, please see the Guardian’s review.)

Review – Olga Pericet – 2012 Sadler’s Wells Flamenco Festival

February 11, 2012

To break in this year’s Flamenco Festival at Sadler’s Wells, I scheduled a visit for the one night Olga Pericet was to grace the stage. I didn’t know who she was, but how much the better to see a new face than just to relive the pleasures of the familiar!

The show started with a barefooted woman in a frilled skirt sat uncomfortably on a chair at the front left of the stage, her knees and arms raised, looking very much like a doll with limbs akimbo. As the music started, she eventually began spinning her hands in the swirls I associate with beautiful guitar runs, little circles of musicality that eventually were also taken up by her feet.

Then a black garbed man approached her and began to move her around to the music, making her seem more Copellia-like than ever. He held her up by the shoulders so she could do amazingly fast entrechats – her feet a blur in the air – then tossed her over his shoulders as if she had no genius of her own at all. He was caring, though, very much seeming a Dr Coppelius (or Pygmalion) in love with his porcelain creation.

Next we moved into some guitar and singing – lovely – and “the doll” appeared (now clearly to me Olga and not another dancer, but still stunningly petite in comparison to the six or so men singing, clapping, and playing guitar behind her). Dressed in red with a buff floral shawl wrapped around her, she looked both all joy and all business. The dance, though, seemed very much designed to show off mastery of shawl-work, with every move in the book (wrapping the ends around the wrists, swirling it around the body, tossing an end around the shoulder just so) done as if checking off a list. This was to the expense of showing better emotional connection to the music or (nearly entirely) good footwork – it seemed workmanlike to me and lacking in spirit. Except – there was one movement fairly early on where the fringe, as it flew out around her wrists, suddenly reminded me of the feathers of a fighting bantam rooster. At the end she went for showing off her dancing more, and I felt her and her accompanists working together, but otherwise this section left me a bit dry.

Without notes, I can’t provide a complete order of events, but the modern dancer returned a lot, and I feel between his dancing and the low key scenery (two curtains), we were given a well-designed, satisfying evening. His final turn came when Olga returned in a sparkly, black bata de cola dress, the long train somehow looking like the hood of a cobra. And the man danced like a character from some Almodovar movie who had become obsessed with a flamenquera, worshipping her skirt and every bit of flamenco about her, while being entirely unaware of the human being beneath the dress.

He disappeared and Ms Pericet got on with the important business of the evening, dancing with this long and heavy lump of fabric following her everywhere. Again, I felt like she was working through a lot of display of technique without doing enough dance; a problem as it should not be the props driving the dancer.

This said, I still feel like Ms Pericet came of as a dancer of considerable charisma, at her best in the middle section with a short dress and nothing more than her own moves to show off. She has to step away from her props and let her own music drive the dance; but with her good sensibility as a creator of an evening of performance and her innate skills as a dancer, I feel certain she will be well worth seeing dance in the future.

Review – Some Like It Hip Hop – Zoonation at the Peacock Theater

October 25, 2011

Into the Hoods was the first full-length street dance evening I attended, and while I found it rough around the edges, it got me excited about the style … and the company. This meant that the company’s new show, Some Like it Hip Hop, had made it to the place of honor in my mental space as I put their flier on my cubicle’s tiny display space. Mental note: AWESOME SHOW COMING.

So … here’s what I expected going in. Despite the fact that the title is from the movie Some Like it Hot, I was thinking not at all about a plot involving gangsters, all-girl Jazz bands, and cross-dressing musicians; instead, I’d got my mind fixated on Shakespearean influences for this show, with As You Like It and Measure for Measure being zipped up and rejigged with the ever popular mistaken identities, twins, and a whole new element of kick-ass dance to tie it all together (per Time Out‘s interview Twelfth Night was an influence). And, well, the production shot made me think it was all taking place in a high school.

But what I didn’t expect was a story about dystopian police state in which all books are banned and women are completely cut out of civil society – not even allowed to speak in the menial jobs they are given! The framing is a blend of science fiction and fairy tale, as a mad governor (Duwane Taylor, rather like Leontes from A Winter’s Tale) has taken the sun from they sky, forcing his subjects to live in darkness. While I was imagining the frozen future of Charles Stross’ “Palimpsest,” the death of all plant life wasn’t as important as the fact that this world was now split into those on the inside of the city (who support the king and follow his rules) and those on the outside (who have their own society but live in poverty and desperation, not to mention cold). Life is so regimented that it seems no fun for the men or the women – the men are reduced to bullies who pick on the women but live in the knowledge that one screw up on the job and they’ll be on the outside with just the coats on their backs.

This regimented life is expressed well in movement: the men shuffle into an office with their personality stripped away, but suddenly break into dance (with shouts and hollering from the audience), showing us their interior life, as they clock in for the day; and, though they move in unison as they type up their reports (and the women feed their typewriters paper), they throw in little flourishes that express the fact that they are still individuals despite the Governor trying to strip away their ability to think for themselves.

But then we get to the situation of the women. Somehow, watching them stripped of dignity, existing only to “assist” the men, reduced and humliated by the simple chance of the gender they were born being defined as “inferior” (though even at the beginning we can see that one of the guys – “Sudsy Partridge” – isn’t as good as Miss Jo-Jo Jameson) – I couldn’t help but think of all of the uprisings going on in the Middle East this year. All of these people with so much potential being held back by folks only concerned with keeping themself in power – a revolution was going to have to happen. And when Jo-Jo (Lizzie Gough) and Kerri Kimbalayo (Teneisha Bonner) decided to bust back into the city (after being thrown out for getting uppity) and take the men on at their own game, you can’t help but cheer, especially when to “win the right” they have to show they can perform as well as the men. And they do, in a sizzling dance-off that saw other guys (including Sudsy) fail as the chicks showed they could totally hold their own for speed and moves – as long as they had on a suit (and hysterical fake mustaches). Now admittedly we had some plot happening here, but MAN was the dancing snazzy and fast, and how could you not see the point made that women can hold their own not just on a frozen planet but in the real world and in the arena of street dancing!

Then another plot point was spun in … The Governor has a daughter, Oprah Okeke (Natasha Gooden) who wants to reunite with her dad! First she’s on the outside of the city, then, somehow, she sneaks in an open door and gets a job at the factory, but she is not doing a good job at conforming – especially knowing that the misery her father has put on everyone else is something that’s wrong, but that fixing him is what has to be done to change it. So we have revolution bursting out at many levels, from the women, from the family, and finally from the men of the city, who are not as happy living in their same sex dorms and playing poker as The Governer might wish they were! Finally the whole thing breaks out in all out war as the various forces come together and have to fight it out in a big dance scene. You think this is going to be cheesy and over-stylized, but it actually had me on the edge of my seat – it was like watching X Wing fighters diving into the Death Star! The audience was going wild and I was cheering along with them – to see a corrupt system overthrown, to see the women get the respect they deserved, to see the various lovers finally allowed to reunite – there was a lot riding on this battle and we wanted a happy resolution. Unsurprisingly, we got it, and at the end we even got the sun hung back in the sky.

Overall Some Like It Hip Hop was a big level up for Zoonation, with not just a compelling story and characters, but great design work and … it has to be said … the fantastic addition of a bunch of original music sung by real belters. No more projected sets and sampled music, this was the full meal deal, a night of story told through acting, singing, and dance. I was astounded at what a change had happened. Congratulations to Kate Prince and crew, you’ve made a show to be remembered – and one I think I need to go back and see again.

(This review is for a performance that took place on Friday, October 24th, 2011. It continues at the Peacock Theater through November 19th. Awesome dance moment: during the final fight, a guy dances like he’s going to tear the house down all by himself, and in response, the woman he’s showing off to takes her right leg and, while standing on the left, tucks her foot behind her ear. Dodge THAT.)

Review – Autumn Glory (Checkmate, Symphonic Variations, Pineapple Poll) – Birmingham Royal Ballet at Sadler’s Wells

October 21, 2011

The Birmingham Royal Ballet opened their fall visit to London with a series of ballets that were a treat of historical information – ballets by the great and the good of years gone by, that I’d mostly only ever known by images (“Ooh, look at those hats!”) or reputation (“What, you say there’s a ballet done to the music of Gilbert and Sullivan?”). I’ve seen a fair amount of Ashton (represented in this case by his “Symphonic Variations”), but I was burning with curiosity over Ninette de Valois’s “Checkmate,” which has some of the strangest costumes I’ve ever seen (excepting some of the Surrealist designed ones done for Diaghilev). And “Pineapple Poll,” well, I’d seen a version of it done by Spectrum Dance in 2004 (with choreography by Donald Byrd), but I anticipated that this one would also be a good time.

In practice, Checkmate won the prize for weird classic ballet of the year. While the movements of the various chess pieces were supposed to be stylized versions of their actual allowed movements in the game, I was not able to see this. Instead, I was caught up in drama and metaphor, as the seductive Black Queen (Victoria Marr) went from terrorizing to enticing the Red Knights (Iain Mackay and Jamie Bond), dropping their guard enough that she was able to pull Iain in for a kill. The queen’s rattling of her daggers and bum-shaking was almost insect-like; she was certainly menacing and a most unique (ballet) character as a deadly female. Unfortunately I found myself spending more time thinking about what it all “meant” rather than enjoying the movement. (It seemed to me to be warning of the rise of the forces that would lead to World War II; I assumed the gentle but weak “reds” were supposed to be England.) The aesthetic pleasures were most certainly there, but I hadn’t actually come (I promise!) to ogle the very handsome male dancers. The use of poles was fascinating, however, from grills to put dead pieces on to traps (when surrounding the checked Red King (Jonathan Payn)) to simply the linear effect they had on stage (very good with the graphics of the drop) – it was a most unique effect. However, unfortunately, I don’t feel this piece reached me either through dance or generated emotion – it seemed very much like an intellectual effort and one that hadn’t aged well.

“Symphonic Variations,” by Ashton, failed to make almost any impression on me at all. Three men in white, toga-like half-shirts (phoar!) paired three women in white with pleated, short skirts (design Sophie Fedorovitch); and while I loved Cesar Franck’s piano music (thank you Jonathan Higgins!) I was only able to think of Balanchine’s “Apollo,” which I’ve frequently groused about for being too silly and male ego-centric. However, I felt Balanchine’s choreography glowed like a sun, and Ashton’s was a pale moon beside it – not Diana so much as Phobos. Chi Cao was a strong lead and great partner to Natasha Oughtred, but … I found the choreography forgettable even if I was having a bit of a Chippendale’s experience as I sat blushing in my chair.

Next up was “Pineapple Poll,” and as the curtain rose on a cartoony set painted to look like an 1830s port town, my heart sunk a bit; it looked like I was in for 45 minutes of twee. A bevy of ladies came in and danced with young men dressed as sailors; some drama developed as the pub lackey (Tzu-Chao Chou, officially credited as “Jasper the potboy”) showed clearly he was in love with Pineapple Poll (Carol-Anne Millar), a “bumboat woman” (this appears to be a person who makes a living selling stuff to people who live on ships). But then Captain Belaye (Robert Parker) showed up, the women started swooning over him … and Birmingham Royal Ballet exploded in a festival of fantastic dancing and expressive acting that made me completely lose track of my critic’s notebook. The girls were a series of faints and flutterings, the boat’s crewmen were angry and boisterous, the simpering fiancee, Blanche (Arancha Baselga), a hoot … at the time I thought it was just a case of good choreography but in fact it was the cast that took the structure and covered the whole thing with ribbons and fun. Just like in Gilbert and Sullivan operettas, it’s not just one or two good leads that make the show, it’s everyone in the cast giving it 100% and acting like they, too, could be the full focus of someone’s attention at any given moment. Millar was amazing, a real comic genius, so expressive with her body. She owned the stage when she was on it and is now on my top list of ballerinas to arrange my show schedule around. But everyone was just so very good in this show and there’s no doubt for me it was the highlight of the night. Thanks, guys, for another marvellous evening out.

(This review is for a performance that took place on Tuesday, October 18th, 2011 at Sadler’s Wells. It was repeated on October 19th. For a five star review of the alternate cast, see Clement Crisp; Mark Monahan’s less excited review is here.)

Review – Mexican Hayride – Lost Musicals at Sadler’s Wells 2011 series

July 19, 2011

This is my second year of going to the Lost Musicals series at Sadler’s Wells. It’s been a pretty successful batch of shows for me, with musicality, lyrics, and plotlines that leave most of the West End’s output in the dust. However, just as in new shows, it’s not too surpising that the occasional flop (by modern standards) will come in amongst the gold nuggets, and for the 2011 series, Mexican Hayride is the red haired stepchild of the year.

So about Mexican Hayride. First of all, this show has almost nothing to do with the movie (if you were wondering), and, to be honest, it doesn’t have all that much to do with Mexico, either. An American (Joe Bascom, played by Michael Roberts) joins the expat crowd at a bullring and inadvertently catches the ear that Madame Matador “Montana” (Louise Gold) throws into the audience, thereby earning a week of being “The American Friend” (or something like that) and being feted by the local populace. However, Bascom is trying to keep a low profile, as he’s left the states after running a numbers racket and has got a wife (Montana’s sister Lillian, Lana Green) hot on his heels. That doesn’t keep him from trying to get back into the business when he sees an opportunity. Most of the show, then, revolves around Bascom being chased, either by the girls he wants (a great excuse for the song “Girls”) or the law, which he wishes to avoid. Scenes are set on a boat on the lake (with mariachis), at a bullring, at a hotel, and at a gas station … and while there’s a lot of motion there just isn’t a lot of plot.

I’m actually unfamiliar with most of the musicals that appeared during the 20s, 30s, and 40s because so very many of them were made and history has rather nicely weeded out a lot of the chaff. We’ve moved away from the screwball comedy powered by known stars toward shows driven by plot with songs that illuminate character as well as action. I had a peep at the old way of doing things when I saw Drowsy Chaperone, a loving spoof of this style and a show which I enjoyed tremendously. So when I read the description of Mexican Hayride, I thought “Oh! Here we have crooks on the lam disguised as tortilla vendors, an American female matador, and an angry wife looking for her shyster husband! Maybe they can even fit in a monkey! And Cole Porter wrote the songs, awesome!”

Awesome it was not, but rather directionless and thin on the ground, so much so that in the latter half of the first act I could no longer keep my focus and found myself incapable of keeping my eyes open. The woman next to me was already dozing hard enough to jab her elbow into my leg, and later I found two others in my group of four had fought a losing battle with the Sandman. I know I saw all of the act, but I don’t remember much of scenes four and five anymore – oh, for a stalls-side tea delivery!

What’s a shame about this show is that there were a pile of really good performances attempting to claw their way through the nonexistent plot. Louise Gold was as wonderful and warm as Montana she had been in Darling of the Day, and in the central role of Joe Bascom, Michael Roberts cranked up the silly and did all sorts of eyebrow-waggling and mugging that were needed to accompany his many bad jokes (frequently about boobs).
Wendy Ferguson as Lolita Cantine had a lovely turn performing “Sing to Me Guitar,” showing off a nice set of classically trained pipes, and had comedic timing that shone throughout the show.

But … but … my funny bone just isn’t tickled by hammy acting or crude humor. But after the interval, things took a real turn southward as 60 years of social progress vanished in a flip of a serape. Forget mere sexual innuendo: we now had “lazy Mexicans” (yes they all sleep during the siesta, at work, on the floor, and they won’t do anything because they are sleeping), “red Indians” (they make tomahawk moves wth their arms and dance in a circle), and a “squaw and papoose” selling tortillas (which I think Herbert or Dorothy Fields got confused with tacos). My companions and I turned and stared at each other with our mouths open: was this for real? Was this really what they used to do back in the 40s? While in the context of a historically accurate remount of a show it kind of made sense, we three were shocked by this painful racism played for comedy. Wow. We are all just children of a very different era.

While I could forgive this (only in context, not as a full-blown remount), it doesn’t detract from the fact that the songs also seem generally second rate, some stuff Porter glued together from pieces of his back catalogue (I swear “Abracadabra” was a completely different song from another musical with just a different word in the chorus). Supposedly he cut several other songs from this musical between its debut in Boston and its Broadway opening (January 1944), and while I’m sorry to have lost “Tequila,” I’m more sorry that a bit more plot wasn’t added in, Given the fact this show was never produced in London, I think it may just be a relic of its times, less of a misplaced golden oldie and more of a rightfully out-to-pasture oldster. If you’ve got tickets for the series, do make sure you have an espresso before you go in and then put your 1940s blinders on during the interval; otherwise, I’m afraid there just isn’t enough charm in this show to carry the evening.

(This review is for a performance that took place on Sunday, July 17th, 2011. It continues on Sundays through August 7th.)

Review – Coco – Lost Musicals at Sadler’s Wells

June 9, 2011

Apologies for the delay in publishing this review: at some time after the show my program for Coco disappeared. This meant I couldn’t credit any of the cast, as Sadler’s Well’s website and the Lost Musicals websites say absolutely nothing about the brilliant cast of this (and all) shows. Dammit all, I will have to remember that when I write here, it’s not just for me, it’s for posterity, as there needs to be a record of who was working on it somewhere! But … HURRAY I found it, so nearly a week later my review is ready at last.

A musical never performed in London, written by the great Alan J Lerner, with music by Andre Previn? This kind of solid gold pedigree is exactly what I’ve come to expect from Lost Musicals, and their choice of the neglected Coco was a good one, a treat for it to finally be performed in Europe and a delight for those of us who like our songs singable and our characters unforgettable. While the concept of Coco Chanel as the center of a musical seems highly promising on its own (ooh, the clothes! ooh, the glamor!), I was fascinated that this play was actually about a woman who was old and powerful – and not the spiteful head of a family, but a businesswoman. It’s a character type I haven’t really seen a show about before.Then you put yourself in the mind of it being Katherine Hepburn, and, wow, it all just really worked, despite having a lead role that’s not really one for a singer – it was written for a woman with a forceful stage presence. And Sara Kestelman did a good job of being vibrant, passionate, bitchy, thoughtful, everything Coco needed to be – it was hard to take your eyes off of her.

I’m not one much for summarizing plots for shows in my reviews, but I’ll make an exception here due to the obscurity of the show. It’s the early 50s. Dior’s new look, all pinched waists and complex undergarments, is in. Chanel is, however you cut it, out – but she wants back in, against the advice of her lawyer Louis (Edward Petherbridge, who did a great job of being both supportive and long suffering) and assistant Pignolle (a fine comic turn by Myra Sands),- and, well, everyone else ( in the number “The World Belongs to the Young”). She throws open her salon to some models and finds a sort of “junior Coco” in Noelle (Robine Lundi), an orphan who’s been slumming in Paris as a live-in girlfriend for Georges (David Habbin). Noelle gets the modelling job, Georges says she must quit “or else;” Coco lectures Noelle about the joy of making your own money and being independent (in the song “The money rings out like freedom” … “Clink clink a-jingle! …. Oh debt where is thy sting?” and with such aphorisms as “One needs independence and not equality. Equality is a step down.”), convincing Noelle to keep the job and be her own woman. Over the course of the play, we see flashbacks to how Coco got her life to the point it is now … where she’s basically a contented woman despite being single … and watch as an interfering “assistant” Simon (Simon Butteriss, a total show stealer with his schadenfreude-driven second act song “Fiasco”) attempts to mutilate her style by adding bits and bobs and dealie-boppers to the clothes (I believe this was meant to be the designer Lanvin). She cuts Simon out, presents her collection as she wants it, then faces financial ruin as Paris decides she’s just not very fashionable. But then she’s saved by a deal with a bunch of American department stores (in the witty number “Orbachs Bloomingdale Best and Saks”) to sell her clothes in a sort of cut down, mass-market way – rather comically living up to what she says at the beginning that it’s the age when the thing to do is to follow the masses, not lead them. Noelle and Georges also get back together – he with a new-found respect for her – and the play ends on a happy note for all.

I’ve seen at least three new musicals in the last six months and the wit of this show blew them all out of the water. Previn’s songs were often short (I’m guessing due to being written for a weak voiced lead) but they were still full of hooks with great Lerner lyrics – in fact it’s a week later and I’m sitting here singing “Fiasco” to myself. And the dialogue itself had me and my friend David giggling and guffawing in a way I had not experienced in ages. “Today they think ‘chic’ is someone riding on a camel” … “Mademoiselle will never go back to work! She is too old … I mean too rich and too wise” … “Forgive me for not writing, I had nothing to do and couldn’t get around to it.” What a treat! To top it off, the show was introduced by Liz Roberts, the widow of Alan J Lerner and a piece of living history. It was just such a rich experience … oh man! What a wonderful Sunday afternoon. Anyway, once again “Lost Musicals” has delivered a wonderful entertainment: I can’t wait until Mexican Hayride!

(This review is for a performance that took place on Sunday, June 5th, 2011. The final performance will take place on Sunday, June 12th, 2011. These shows consistently sell out so I advise booking early.)

Review – Band Wagon – Lost Musicals at Sadler’s Wells

March 28, 2011

One of last year’s major discoveries for me was the Lost Musicals series, usually at Sadler’s Wells and always on Sundays. I like my songs singable and that’s what Lost Musicals delivers, music from the Golden Age of the Great White Way. Based on my good experience last year (after randomly going to the first one of the year I eventually went to all three showsParis, The Day Before Spring and Darling of the Day), I went ahead and booked for all shows in this year’s series, thereby taking advantage of a small discount and guaranteeing several wonderful Sundays full of gorgeous music and the kind of plots that seem to have fallen out of fashion (outside of Salad Days revivals).

This year’s first show is is The Band Wagon, which, let’s be clear, is NOT the MGM musical, with which it only has a few songs in common. This, the original version, is actually a musical revue, with a pile of good songs (“I Love Louisa,” “Miserable with You,” “High and Low”) interspersed with a few comedy sketches. There is also a few dance numbers thrown in to liven it up.

However, this is not really my cup of tea, as I like my musicals to be held together with what I’ll call “plot.” I want songs that help develop character and move a story along, not just entertain and show off people’s voices. Now, I imagine this would have been a truly spectacular event when it was done with Adele and Fred Astaire, but Barnaby Thompson and Clare Rickard, while certainly able to tap dance (and I do love tap dancing) … well, is a comparison in the least bit fair? I also found the various comedy sketches (by George Kaufman and Howard Dietz) amusing but … I mean, why WOULDN’T they be dated? Oddly, at least, these weren’t dated by racism or sexism, it’s just that … well, a sketch in which people are too shy to say the word toilet doesn’t really bowl me over. However, just fresh from Eight Women, I did get a laugh out of “The Great Warburton Mystery.” Similarly, the opening song, “It Better Be Good,” was fairly timeless – what theater goer doesn’t mutter the same thing to herself while waiting for the curtain to rise?

While this was just the first performance of a nearly month-long run, I’m afraid this show didn’t hold as much charm for me as the other ones I’ve seen, in part because the songs, while enjoyable, were all new to me (thus no pleasure from hearing them in their original setting); and then again because I do really prefer to hear my songs with stories connecting them rather than standing all on their own. There are probably many people who will enjoy this production for their own reasons, but this wasn’t for me. On the other hand, Cole Porter’s Mexican Hayride, never revived since its first performance in 1944 … I can’t wait!

(This review is for a performance that took place on Sunday, March 27th, 2011. It continues on Sundays through April 17th.)

Review – Israel Galvan – Sadler’s Wells 2011 Flamenco Festival

February 10, 2011

“Bonito!” “Maravilloso!” The praise was being shouted loudly last night by the flamenco fans at Israel Galvan’s performance at the Sadler’s Wells 2011 Flamenco Festival. The volume and frequency of the exclamations said to me that this was one the aficionados had picked up on; it sounded like I was in Spain, as normally the only words of encouragement at a Sadlers Wells flamenco show come from the various performers on stage. But Galvan’s reputation had preceded him and the house was packed with people who wanted to see fantastic flamenco, and they got what they came for.

It’s hard for me to describe what happened last night, as I lack words and to be perfectly honest was far more interested in watching what was going on rather than trying to scribble everything down. The show was stripped to the bare minimum; just two accompanists (a singer and a guitarist, both men, both dressed in black) and the dancer, who eschewed flamboyance in favor of a dark green shirt rolled up to the elbows, soft black pants and black shoes. He traced a line on the stage with his toe, emphasing the musical nature of what he was about to do (and the fact the stage was miked). Then he launched into the most intense, pure, performance of male flamenco I have ever seen, totally one with his singer and guitarist, becoming one, the three of them, with the music they were all creating. His movements went far beyond the usual macho posing; he showed humor, he spun and tapped his toes as he went, he held his fingers behind his head as if creating a comb for a mantilla. He thrust his chest in and out, he lifted his shirt and yanked on its hem, he slapped his chest and his shoes (ever aware of the music he was making with his body), he played his teeth with his fingernails. At one point, it seemed like he was telling the entire story of an invasion of a town by opposing armies entirely with his dancing.

I am constantly amused by the ego I see on stage in flamenco, especially with men; and I want to say that this was about dance and not “Behold, I am Israel Galvan, bow before me o ye lesser mortals.” It wasn’t like that, but I can’t say it was egoless, though; Galvan was wholly himself, one with his music and the performance, utterly aware of himself and his body at all time, but seemingly driven by a vision of perfection, a vision he was capable of executing as he whipped around so fast his feet were a blur. He let his accompanists play their parts while he faded into the background or accompanied him, not appearing to be “condescending” but to be part of creating a perfect flamenco performance. At the end, they all changed roles for a bit, Galvan singing while the guitarist (Alfredo Lagos) strutted a bit on stage, then deliberately teased him by tapping his teeth with his fingernails. Then they switched again, with the singer (David Lagos) dancing very tentatively while Galvan mimed the guitar and the guitarist sang a bit and laughed. After so long and so intense an evening, we were ready for comedy and lightness, and after so many years of seeing men past their prime dominate other people on stage, I was ready for the joy of a performer who was both tops in his class and a gentleman to boot. Israel Galvan, you have set a standard not just for the 2011 Sadler’s Wells flamenco festival, but for every male bailador I shall ever see again.

(This review is for a one-off performance that took place on Wednesday, February 9th, 2011. The Flamenco festival continues through February 19th. For my joy expressed more elegantly, please see Clement Crisp’s review in the Financial Times.)

Review – American Ballet Theater mixed rep program 1 (Seven Sonatas, Known By Heart (“Junk”) Duet, Duo Concertant, Everything Doesn’t Happen At Once) – Sadler’s Wells

February 5, 2011

Clearly it’s the second rep of American Ballet Theater’s London program that’s the better of the two; but despite Mr Crisp’s damning review, it turns out to be a performance with much to like. It started with Ramatsky’s “Seven Sonatas,” which I felt to be the weakest link in the evening. Three couples in cream dance as Scarlatti piano sonatas are played on stage. Together, they danced conventionally, turned, were mannered; there were nice duets (Yuriko Kajiya, light and graceful, and Gennaidi Saveliev, restrained power; Xiomara and Cornejo, playfully doing the Mashed Potato); Julie Kent’s grace and Cornejo’s bravura (great solo!) distracted me. But all of this totally lacked any emotional content or connection. I yawned. I wondered how long I’d been sitting there. Finally, we had an interval. I’d learned more about the dancing of the six people I’d just watched, but Ramatsky had not left me impressed.

This piece was saved its killing blow by the decision to move “Duo Concertant” to the third slot. A couple, a piano and violin on stage; the setup was nearly the same. And Balanchine proceeded, after a twee start (“Aw! Lookie the cute dancers watching the cute musicians! Aren’t we just so cultured!”), to show the youth how it is done. Misty Copeland and Alexandre Hammoudi seemed to live in a world in which there was nothing but the two of them, and, while there was no tale per se, I felt there was a story being told, a narrative of the feelings of the two people. It was one similar to many Balanchine ballets; the woman seems to be aspiring toward pure beauty and the man, occasionally forgotten, lives for nothing else but her. In a “Serenade” like gesture, she leans her arm out with her hand facing her, in a motion I have read as rejecting death but accepting its inevitability; but Balanchine has the man lean forward so that his face is touching her hand, an incredible, poignant moment of human contact. I almost feel maudlin but I wanted to tell Hammoudi to dry his tears, that he would not be left alone; yet somehow, there is something in Balanchine that makes me think he will be abandoned at the last as his partner follows the muse. Hammoudi was an incredible partner, holding Copeland so tenderly that he made it look as if his entire life depended on her; I can only imagine every dancer in the troupe wishing to be paired with him. Ramatsky, watch and learn.

Before this we had a Tharp extract, a duet to Donald Knaack’s Junk Music. I enjoyed the industrial clanging and banging. Gillian Murphy and Blaine Hoven looked like they’d fallen out of a Forsythe piece and found a sense of humor and personality that had been lacking before. Millepied’s “Everything Doesn’t Happen at Once” also had that Forsythe look, with the stage fully cleared, a few musicians at the back, and dancers shoulder to shoulder in identical black outfits (male and female versions). However, after the chaos of too many moving bodies and too many steps had cleared out, we had a fantastic duet (Isabella Boylston and Marcelo Gomes?) in which the woman was lifted and moved somehow more slowly than I’d seen before – I don’t know how to say it, but this incredible tension was created, and the entire auditorium was holding its breath. This was followed, deliciously, by a series involving what looked like a 14 year old blond boy being tossed around (caught in mid air!) by the men, then tortured by the women. I thought he was just an object of comedy (and it was light), but then he was given a solo that showed off his own agility and athleticism, the flexibility that only the young have (backflips!), as if to say, “Ha ha, I cannot lift women over my head, but just you spin four times in the air, I dare you.” I had really been fearing the worst of this piece, but it left us exhilarated, curtain call after curtain call for the waves of applause. Overall, a good evening.

(This review is for the final performance of this program which took place on Friday, February 4th, 2011.)