Posts Tagged ‘Sian Murphy’

Review – Draft Works in the Linbury – Royal Ballet and guests (downstairs at the Royal Opera House)

January 25, 2012

Seeing shows in the Linbury is a treat: it’s a nice, intimate space where you get much closer to the performers. And something like “Draft Works” is an even more special treat, a chance to see dance works – and new choreographers – as they develop.

There’s not much on the ROH website about the show, so here’s the list of choreographers and the names of their dances:

At the River Styx – Robert Binet
Feathers in your Head – Ludovic Ondivela
Gallardo – Fernando Montano
Overtone – Declan Whitaker
Lonesome Gun – Kristen McNally
Within the Hours – Erico Montes
i lean and bob – Thomas Whitehead
Grace – Simon Rice
Into the Woods – Tamara Rojo
Brandenburg Divertissement – Valentino Zucchetti

We started with a lovely, very classical piece by Robert Binet, who is woring as a choreographic apprentice at the Royal Ballet this season. The music was the Biber violin sonata that is based on (to my ears) the old round song “Rose” (“Rose, rose, rose rose/Will I ever see the wed” etc.), lending a melancholy air to the dance; but given that the theme was Orpheus’ ascent from the underworld with Eurydice, when he is unable to turn and look at her, I found it wholly appropriate. Yuhui Choe twined and arced and hovered around Ricardo Cervera, she showing her confusion and fear, he closing his eyes as she passed in front of him and yet somehow managing all sorts of lifts and other partnering that seemed not in keeping with the “don’t look at her or she’ll go back to the underworld” dictum. Cervera pulled of some amazingly fast turns, but the piece overall still felt a bit unsettled – if promising.

Next up was dancer Ludovic Ondivela’s “Feathers in your Head,” performed by Lauren Cuthbertson and Bennett Gartside. I thought Lauren was a great choice to play someone laid low by Alzheimers – she seemed fragile, constantly searching but always lost. I particularly liked the starting motion of typing fingers on her shoulder, a reminder of a more ordered past. Bennet was a good partner, mirroring her moves, protective, but somehow not reaching her.

This was followed by Fernando Montano’s self-danced “Gallardo,” done to Piazolla. Montano was swift footed with his tango moves, seemingly attempting to seduce the audience as he glided and strutted (although I think his hip waggle needed a bit more shimmy). I think the two women he was supposed to have in the piece missed out on a great chance to improve their style of dancing, but then again, perhaps they would have only sat in the chairs. Still, it was a lively and enjoyable piece, if weak in the standard ballet choreography.

Next up was Declan Whitaker’s as dancer/choreographer for “Overtone.” I missed the program note about it being glacier-themed, but I did find it slow and not very interesting. There was a loud buzzing noise over the speakers, some slow poses and twitching, all very serious. I found myself wondering what a dance piece based on “There’s Something About Kevin” would look like. And then it was over.

Soloist Kristen McNally wrapped up the first half with the lighthearted “Lonesome Gun,” six dancers in plastic cowboy hats performing to music as diverse as Nick Cave and Ennio Morricone (and we have been long overdue for “The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly” to be used as dance music!). I laughed as the blondest woman mouthed “What are you lookin’ at?” before hawking and (mime) spitting. She described it as a skeleton of a dance, and it seemed to be hitting a lot of the cowboy points – gambling, fighting, some male/female rescue drama. It seemed to need more flesh on it but as what it was, a sketch done for a one-off, it was a breath of fresh air. (I can’t imagine she’ll really finish it, nobody does comic one act any more.)

After the interval, we had the high point of the night: Erico Montes’ “Within the Hours,” performed to original (being debuted) music by Oliver Davies (Three Waltzes for Cello and Piano, Helen Leek on piano and Ivan McCready on cello). The whole piece seemed a meditation on the fragile nature of life and our essential loneliness, performed by (in my eyes) very young dancers. Montes seemed to really know how to handle ensemble movement, with a yearning in their togetherness, and elements of unexpected as they came apart. The music was echoed and emphasized in the dance while never seeming to dictate what happened next. I found myself thinking of “Serenade.” Thank you, Mr. Davies, for this lovely work, and pass a thank you on to your dancers and musicians for helping make it happen.

“i lean and bob” was a very short piece, another comic one that I think won’t be seen outside of this small room despite the fact it was so fun. It started in the stalls, with Ryoichi Hirano slapping his hands on the stage as “Kringle” by Analogik started to play. He was watched closely by Sian Murphy, who then dashed past the front row patrons trying to catch up to him as he ran onto the stage. They then danced together, he ignoring her at times, then lifting her up awkwardly (and to her surprise), both of them bouncing, Ryoichi grooving, Sian disappointed at being ignored. It all ended with a kiss, a little burst of excitement and passion to wrap up Thomas Whitehead’s engaging first attempt at choreography.

This was followed by “Grace,” a modern dance piece choreographed by Simon Rice and danced by his own troupe. The dancers moved so differently from the ballerinas that I had to regear my brain substantially, but in the end, the language of half turns, bending forward, rolling across each other’s bodies, et cetera, seemed so old to me, like being in Seattle in 2000 and watching Pat Grainey. Modern dance has moved forward a lot and what I was shown did not engage me at all.

Next to last was Tamara Rojo’s “Into the Woods,” danced by Camille Bracher and Jose Martin. The set up was a man on a chair to which a sylph-like woman is tied by the ankle. As the man conveyed his adoration (and occasionally lust) for the woman – lifting her up while she struggled to get away, running his hands over her body – I saw in it echoes of other myths, such as The Firebird (and even Diana and Actaeon, but without the happy ending). But as it became clearer she was his prisoner, I started having flashbacks to Silence of the Lambs and wondering if he was going to tell her to “rub the lotion on its skin” (“or else it gets the hose again”).

Then Bracher’s character had what seemed to me to be a sort of “Stockholm Syndrome” moment as she decides she is attracted to the man, and the dance ends with her laying the rope around him (as he sits) and then curling at his feet on the floor. I was hoping for some rope around the neck and a violent escape, but … well, this did give me rather a lot to think about with only a simple story, so I think it must be considered a success.

Finally we had Valentino Zucchetti’s “Brandenburg Divertissement,” which was described as being architectural and Baroque, with a little passion. With a cast of eight, there was a lot of room for artistic creation, but ultimately I think its success was as a showcase for the up and coming dancers of the company (Yasmine Naghdi, who looked to me like the perfect Balanchine ballerina, and Claudia Dean, whom I was happy to see again after her promotion into the company, and all of the young men but especially Kevin Emerton). The choreography was unfortunately quite mechanical, a real contrast with the depth of “Within the Hours.” Perhaps it is the fault of Bach, or perhaps Zucchetti was just too literal in his interpretation.

Overall this was an enjoyable evening, a good introduction to both many dancers I did not know well and to many choreographers of all shades of experience. And at £11 a ticket, it was a good deal, with a special bonus: Ed Watson smiled at me during the interval *swoon* from about two feet away.

(This work is for a performance that took place on January 24th, 2012. Draft Works in the Linbury continues through January 26th, so just for two more nights. For more information please see Judith Flanders’ writeup for The Arts Desk or Clement Crisp’s shorter yet as always God-like review. Apologies for the many misspellings as trying to do this in 10 minute snatches during the workday is not conducive to cross checking what I’ve written with a program.)

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November Ballet Spectacular – Royal Ballet’s Sleeping Beauty & Mixed Bill (Agon, Sphinx, Limen)

November 18, 2009

Ballet five times in eight days? Why not, I say, why not? And with the highly touted presentation of Birmingham Royal Ballet’s newly choreographed “E=MC2” (in their “Quantum Leaps” program) and the opportunity to see a fancy (and usually expensive) story ballet from the Opera House stalls for 60 quid (Sleeping Beauty), how could I say no? Then, well, new Macgregor at the Royal Ballet, and a new(ish) story ballet (Cyrano), and, er, a commitment to see the Royal Ballet’s mixed bill program twice, and hey! It could happen to anyone, really.

First, the Agon/Sphinx/Limen triple bill, which I saw twice (Friday November 13th, cast list here, and Tuesday, November 17th,
cast list here). “Agon” reminded me how very difficult Balanchine really is – but only the second time I saw it, when the male dancers failed to hit the right sense of unity, I twice saw people adjust themselves after failing to hit their mark, and the whole thing generally smelt like “work” instead of “dance.” The long duet toward the end was particularly different; whereas on Friday, Acosta seemed somewhat bored and workmanlike as he manipulated his partner through a series of movements (including a “drunk ballerina” sequence in which she keeps falling into the splits and being lifted up again), the same duet seemed forced and uncomfortable Tuesday, as if the dancers hadn’t done it enough to forget about what they were doing and just do it. I felt every technical detail of how to make a catch and how to do a turn was exposed to the naked eye, and I didn’t like it.

On Friday, I got caught up in the weirdness of the extremely late 1950s Stravinsky music and the great deep drums (and – was that xylophones?), though I wasn’t entirely able to get caught up in the experience of the dance due to the off-putting nature of my far right seats (cutting off a quarter of the stage). Still, in retrospect, I realize Friday’s cast was pretty well hitting the mark, though in general I think Pacific Northwest Ballet does this dance better.

“Sphinx” … well. Much as “Agon” was as purely late 1950s as Peggy Guggenheim’s house, “Sphinx” was totally late 70s. The costumes were Tron meets Stargate with some headbands thrown in for good measure, and … God, I saw it twice, and I just found it the most unspeakably pretentious thing I’ve seen since the horrid “Pierrot Lunaire“. There’s a bit where “Anubis” is dancing in circles around “The Sphinx” and “Oedipus,” and I just thought … why why why? Who cares about what they’re doing? Why are they acting like they’re performing in a silent movie? Why does he keep balancing her on his shoulder when it’s so clearly a wiggly place to sit? When is there going to be some dancing that actually matters? Why was this revived at all? The music wasn’t bad but … never again.

Finally, Wayne Macgregor’s new ballet, “Limen,” my last and best hope for great new ballet of the year and the reason why I was at this program twice.

Well. I’m sorry to say, but it looks like David Bintley, about whom I knew almost nothing before this week, has utterly stolen the hot ballet trophy away from Wayne this year. (Let’s be clear: much like the search for the world’s best gelato, the search for the hot ballet of the year is one in which the searcher will always win. Still, I was surprised.) Wayne gave us … er, boxes and lines on the floor, and a cool projection, and good music … but the dance was … kinda out of the same box of stuff he usually uses, the great extensions, the butts sticking out, but without the cool “breaking the boundaries” moves he’s thrown in to spice it up. In fact, with almost no partnering in this ballet, it just felt a wee bit sterile.

Except, of course, for the utterly gorgeous middle bit in which a man and a woman did the most amazing work. Both times I saw the same cast, he black and she white, looking like yin and yang together … the movement utterly enchanting, in some ways almost a response to the Balanchine that opened the evening, making the manipulations worked on the ballerina earlier seem so heavy and coarse … now delicate, lifting, bending, flowing, working together as one, his strength, her grace and flexibility … perfect.

And then it was time for the big black wall with the winking blue lightbulbs to show up and end the dance, and I found myself thinking, “E=MC2 was it, I’m so glad I went, I wish I’d seen it twice”, and bam, the end of the night, the end of the ballet year, let down but glad I’d hedged my bets and run off to see BRB earlier in the week.

The day before my second viewing of the mixed bill I went to see Sleeping Beauty, and I really am just not going to be able to say too much about it as, well, it was dry. I realize this production is some kind of touchstone for the British ballet public but for me I about choked on the dust rolling off of the sets and costumes, which reminded me of some little girl’s room in her grandmother’s house, circa 1950, pastel green on pastel pink on pastel purple BAH. The ballet itself has almost no plot and is just really a set piece for some tricksy dance moves, so if you want emotion and not canned Petipa “let’s show of the technique of the dancers,” then it’s going to be Cyrano for you. Admittedly, even the New York Times’ reviewer criticized Tamara Rojo for her rather stiff Aurora, and perhaps this was part of the problem; I could go “ooh, she stayed on that balance almost until infinity,” but I didn’t really care. It was just like watching … the circus or something. I wanted to be involved, like the way I am when my heart breaks for Giselle, but I wasn’t.

Anyway, in the dances of the various fairies in the prologue, I did get quite a kick out of the technical prowess and charm of Sian Murphy as the “Fairy of the Woodland Glade” (she stands en pointe with her supporting leg slightly bent and does two kicks in front, then pulls up into an arabesque – did I get the fairy right?) – as well as the lightfooted (and charismatic) Iohna Loots as “Fairy of the Song Bird,” and of course I liked the bit with Puss & Boots, and the Big Bad Wolf and Red Riding Hood, and of course (I must say!) the Bluebird pas de deux in the final act … but the damned “vision” scene in the second act was just SO LONG I was running out of energy to be there any more. AAARGH. And I didn’t enjoy the dancing in that scene, either. I mean, I saw this ballet done by Pacific Northwest Ballet the year they debuted it, I didn’t enjoy it then, and still I went back. It’s like I don’t learn. It’s still the same ballet. I might just need to see it with a different ballerina in the lead, though as expensive as story ballets are at Royal Ballet it’s unlikely I’ll go back to see this in less than five years. The fact remains that it needs to be massively freshened up and redone for the 21st century instead of being such a museum piece.

Ah well, but if you look at the net result, of five nights of ballet, I did get something to enjoy every night – but for this round, it was Birmingham Royal Ballet that I enjoyed more, and ultimately David Bintley’s choreography that cranked my chain. I can’t wait to see what 2010 will have to offer!