Posts Tagged ‘Sarah Lamb’

Mini-review – Woolf Works – Royal Ballet

May 22, 2015

Every new ballet is a cause for celebration: even more so when it’s a full-length show. Many companies will only produce one every few years: but we’ve been lucky to get a regular feed of them here in London. This year the Royal Ballet has programmed a real treat: a full length ballet by Wayne McGregor inspired by the writing of Virginia Woolf. For McGregor, Woolf Works represents a first full-length ballet work – meaning that for the Royal Ballet this represents a real risk, most poignantly financially. For us readers – and, practically, for the Royal Ballet’s audience as literate Londoners – it represents an opportunity to see a well-loved artist’s legacy reflected through another person’s eyes (and other bodies). But this again is a risk. So I say they’ve programmed a treat, but oh the potential for disaster! But one thing I think everyone agreed on: the topic was worth the effort.

As presented, Woolf Works focuses on three of Woolf’s books: Mrs Dalloway (“I Now, I Then”), Orlando (“Becomings”), and The Waves (“Tuesday”). Deliciously, each section (and the whole production) is approached in McGregor’s usual collaborative, gesamtkunstwerk style, so the sets/settings and lights are richly evocative but also extremely modern. We start with Woolf herself speaking while an animated graphic of her words rains on a scrim … a beautiful effect to take us into a world in which bodies, movement, light and sound attempt to recreate the internal effects of reading Woolf.

“I Now, I Then” is the most realistic and, I think, mostly closely pinned to Woolf’s actual writing: nearly a straight narrative of people remembering their younger selves and dealing with their (less glamorous, less happy) current selves. It introduces us to Alessandra Ferri, as Mrs Dalloway, but also as a representation of Woolf herself – Ferri is no longer the fresh young thing and is thus able to more physically embody the regret of the character she plays. The emotions raised by this section were overwhelmingly of longing – sometimes for the past, sometimes for the attention of/affection of others – with shimmering moments of joyous memories rising like koi from a murky pond. This feeling of looking painfully on the past slides us perfectly to the final section, “Tuesday,” which, while seemingly about The Waves, is much more of an exploration of the mental landscape of a deeply depressed person – one who sees fit to throw herself beneath the waters we see constantly roaring above her. It ends the evening on a heartbreaking note.

In the middle, though, was my favorite section: “Becomings.” I looked forward to it for the chance to see my three favorite dancers – McRae, Watson, and Osipova – on stage together, but also had the joy of McGregor’s oft-used pairing of Lamb and Underwood (why does Underwood never get such excellent choreography in other dances?). We started with dancers emerging from the shadows in stylized Elizabethan court dress – lots of ruffs and gold lamé – but with the gendered versions of the costumes not staying fixed. Eventually, as the lights from the side began to appear shining down in bars, I felt that we were moving forward in time, with somehow a core personality for each performer staying put while the physical manifestation of their existence morphed and wobbled. Then, in the end, as tiny LEDS lit up the arches of the layers of the seating at the Royal Opera House, it felt like we had got to a point where we were beyond gender. Then it was one step further forward so that we simply existing as glittering points of consciousness – and the lights went out. I had been smashed in my chair by the forces of acceleration and then was suddenly floating in space. We had just gone on an adventure beyond the ultraworld. I can hardly imagine a better adaptation – we, the dancers, and Woolf had all been transformed. I can only hope that somehow I can have a chance to see this again before it ends.

(This review is for a performance that took place on Wednesday, May 20, 2015. It continues through Tuesday, May 26th.)

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Review – Triple Bill (Limen, Marguerite and Armand, Requiem) – Royal Ballet at Royal Opera House

October 9, 2011

It’s been two years since I first saw Limen, and the newness of it has worn off well enough for me to appreciate it more structurally. Saturday afternoon I was amazed by the lighting much more – the opening, with the animated, digital clock-font glowing numbers floating around on a scrim while dancers stepped into the numbers and then disappeared into the darkness just a foot or two away from the screen … the very cool white box of light that had the dancers in a negative space in the middle … the colored lights that at one point made a box border that matched the dancers’ shirts (crayon primaries) and then later sliced straight across the stage (in a recreation of the Mount Olympus scene from Xanadu – am I the only one who saw that?) … then the final scene with the great blackness at the back of the stage with little blue lights flickering around it that the dancers all eventually went to stand in front of, completely disappearing in the gloom. It all seemed a metaphor for how we have such brief moments of life and then it’s snuffed out. And yet … the one thing in this ballet that just really kills me is the Yin Yang duet Sarah Lamb and Eric Underwood perform just past the halfway point. He is pure power, she is tiny and (seemingly) fragile, and he moves her with the grace and strength that I think is one of the mind blowing things about sex, that two humans who could be destroying each other instead are so careful and vulnerable together. It’s a pas de deux that makes you hold your breath and I feel lucky I was able to see it again with the originators of the roles.

No such luck with Marguerite and Armand, but given that Fonteyn and Nureyev were performing it until the late 70s, I almost could have (if I’d been living in England thirty years ago). But it was wonderful to have it be my debut as an audience member, with Rojo and Polunin instead, letting me revel in thirty minutes of unfiltered Ashtonian sap. Now, I am not a fan of Traviata (based on the same story, Dumas’ La Dame aux Camelias), as I don’t care for heroes or heroines who are willing to let social norms dictate their actions. Yet somehow as a ballet, with so much of the irritating moral conflicts stripped away, the story moved on to a higher plan of abstracted feelings; love, longing, betrayal, duty, rejection, regret. Ashton wrote the emotions and relationships wonderfully through movement; Marguerite’s weakness captured by Armand lifting her using his legs; her heart and body broken as she shuffles offstage in toe-dragging pointe. I still wanted to hit Armand at the end for not being able to forgive Marguerite (for what I am still not sure; something about a necklace) in time to be able to enjoy what little of her life there was going to be for them to spend together; why must people dwell on the faults of those they love while they live only to suffer so much regret when they die – when a little less rigidity could have led to such a different outcome? Ah well, midway into my forties I see Armand’s pigheaddishness is just as contemporary as ever. Women may not be dying of consumption like they used to but oh, it was just a lovely little thing, this ballet was.

This brought us to the third ballet of the afternoon, Macmillan’s Requiem, something I’ve been interested in seeing because of its place in his ouvre both as a critical one-act and as a historical moment as a choreographer’s tribute to his mentor. What does a ballet constructed of pure grief look like? At the start, as the white-clad dancers paraded, hunched over, on stage, it looked a whole lot like Ashton’s Rite of Spring; there was even a body being carried aloft by the crowd. But then, as we listened to the just beautiful choral work (Fauré’s “Requiem”), I realized … we were watching pretty little angels being carried around on stage! The message was, “Don’t be sad! They’ve moved on to a better place and we’ll get to see them again.” Maybe that’s what the dancers of the Stuttgart ballet needed to hear but I found it just as candy-coated as the ribbon dance in La Fille mal Gardee. Grr. More grief! Ah well, it wasn’t badly danced, the music was very good, but my heart was not touched.

(This review is for the matinee performance of Saturday, October 8th, 2011. This triple bill continues through October 20th and like all of the Royal Ballet’s triple bills is a spectacular bargain. I highly encourage you to attend.)

Review – Mayerling (2009) – Royal Ballet

October 8, 2009

Kenneth Macmillan’s works don’t really hit me right. Thus it took the offer of £20 stalls seats (from the Sun, thanks guys!) to convince me to go see Mayerling at the Royal Opera House. Sure, it was the opening night of the Royal Ballet’s season (yay!) and I have kind of got a thing for your capital R Romantic works (even though this is Victorian, I still felt it shared a lot of the feeling of Doom and Passion that Wuthering Heights did), but fin de siecle Vienna isn’t quite the same thing. But then… £20 seats, Ed Watson as the Prince, and Mara Galeazzi as his death-wish girlfriend? With bonus Sarah Lamb and Steven MacRae? It did seem like there was a good chance of excitement after all.

I will start off with the positives. First, this is a great male dramatic role. Well, actually, no it’s not. Watson was on stage nearly constantly, but he was almost always looking somewhat tortured, though he did alternate that with “mean” and “lustful.” Sadly, the expression of “character” served to frequently mar the dancing – too much dragging his feet around, a sad lack of lovely leaps. His ability to partner and flip women in the air was astounding, but in the nuptial night scene with his hated bride (played by Iohna Loots), I found myself tiring of the constant twists in the air and flips over his shoulder, etc, etc. I consider the skillful creation of these moves to be a hallmark of MacMillans choreography, but so many of them packed together and in such a negative context created no pleasure in my eyes, merely a desire for the scene to be over and something else to happen.

The next positive is the fab start to act 2, a scene “set in a seedy club.” I loved the plumed hat-wearing can-can type girls, with their lacy pantaloons and trampish ways; it made for a lively change from the wretched end of the previous act (and it’s always kind of fun to see ballerinas putting on the tart). However, the dance of the prince’s mistress, Mitzi Caspar, was dull (if nicely executed by Laura Morera). I did enjoy the dance done by the male corps and the prince; it was a good chance for the Royal Ballet men to strut their stuff (and I feel that too often big “corps” dances are all women or couples; just men is a treat).

The act ended on a fun note with the bedroom scene between Mary Vetsera and the Prince. Vetsera was a great Bonnie to the prince’s syphillitic Clyde; her passion for his skull and handgun showed that, as far as being nuts went, she matched him pecan for pecan. His weird, frantic, lustful dancing was managed far easier with her than with poor, virginal Princess Stephanie; they very much seemed in tune with each other’s dementia.

I’ll interrupt the narrative to bring up my third positive, which was the great costumes. From the Victorian Hapsburg court to the gartered dance hall demoiselles, I found myself again and again distracted by having so much to look at on stage – a feature that would probably discourage other companies from mounting this show. However, I’d suspect the real reason they won’t mount it is the same reason I left after act two; it just isn’t really that good. I couldn’t get emotionally committed to the characters and the choreography wasn’t interesting enough to make me want to put up with the grim reality of what a 10:30 end time would mean to my ability to function at work the next day. And if that’s how I feel, how would it go over in Omaha? I really want to see more new story ballets, but this modern one (1978) just leaves me dry. Why the Royal Ballet has done this over a hundred times is a complete mystery to me. At least now I know that even from the fourth row, there’s no point in my bothering to see Mayerling.

(This review is for a performance that took place on Wednesday October 7th, 2009. It continues through November 10th and will doubtlessly be revived over and over again, which will give me more excuses to patronize Sadlers Wells. As near as I can tell I’m the only person who didn’t like this ballet but, you know, there always has to be one of us.)