Posts Tagged ‘Soon Ja Lee’

Review – Scottish Ballet’s 40th Anniversary Mixed Rep (Balanchine, Forsythe, Pastor) – Sadlers’ Wells

October 3, 2009

Last night J and I went to see what I consider the start of the fall dance season in London, Scottish Ballet’s visit to Sadlers Wells. Initially I’d written it off because Scottish Ballet is not on my list of “preferred companies” (ROH, Birmingham Royal Ballet and Northern Ballet being the “local” three) and because, let’s be clear, I can live the rest of my life without seeing anything from Balanchine’s Jewels suite again. I saw it at City Ballet, I saw it at Pacific Northwest Ballet, and it just doesn’t do it for me. It’s empty style, sort of showy but still hollow, like a wedding cake with fancy icing but dry cake underneath it. I’d much prefer the more emotional Serenade and Agon, or the fabulously over the top Stars and Stripes, or the just perfect La Valse (God, have I seen enough Balanchine?) to Jewels. HATE HATE HATE. And how about just having some goddamned new ballet anyway? ENOUGH WITH THE BALANCHINE!

Only, well, I looked at the program (as it got closer to the date – nudged by Twitter, I think), and I saw that it did have quite a bit more – it had a piece by my favorite choreographer, William Forsythe, and a piece by a choreographer that I’d never heard of before (Krzysztof Pastor). And then Ballet Bag posted a link to a Rubies pas de deux on Twitter … and I thought, well, you know, that program Scottish Ballet is doing, it actually really has a lot going for it. I should go see them and see what they’re made of – my recollection is that the Balanchine Trust is kind of picky about who it lets do their dances, so chances are that technically they’re pretty good. And it’s the Friday after my first payday at my new job … time to celebrate, and what better way than a night at the ballet! (I realize “lifting pint glasses” would probably be how most people would do it but I know what I like, and it’s enjoying other people’s artistry with all of the attention I can bring to bear.)

When the curtain rose on “Rubies,” my first view of Scottish Ballet was of a very young and very fresh looking company (“fresh” as in “not burnt out from doing 7 shows in 6 days”). I realized they’d performed the night before, but the dancers just seemed remarkably full of energy. Soon Ja Lee, in the solo female role, was positively saucy, smiling and selling the dance for all she was worth. Her movement was sprightly and elastic and (key to Balanchine) effortless, and in the bit where the four men manipulate her legs, she kept smiling and I caught only even a hit of a tremble in her arms. This must, I think, to some extent speak to the strong work of the male dancers, and indeed, all I saw of the Scottish Ballet’s male corps throughout the night, as in this bit they must co-partner with a unification of movement and focus, staying on point as she stays en pointe and yet keeping an awareness of each other. Because my eyes were not focused on them trying to do their jobs, only looking at them occasionally to admire what they were doing, I must say that they were doing great work at creating seamless movement that only assisted in showing off the extravagane of this part of the work – a woman partnered by four men!

I was also utterly fascinated by the male half of the duo, Tama Barry, who was simply the most masculine danseur I have ever seen. With his broad chest and strong thighs, he looked to be a rugby player who could easily have tossed Claire Robertson three times her height into the air. I wondered if such a physique works against a dancer. Would he have the nimbleness of Ed Watson? How was he at propelling his own body through the air? I kept my eyes on him (not unwillingly) for the rest of the night (easily enough as he was in every piece). My conclusion was that he was a great partner – in fact, I felt he really changed the tone of Rubies, making it seem less …. well, it’s perhaps incorrect to call Mr. B either misogynistic or anti-male, but Tama made it seem more gender balanced, with a look and a strength that drew attention to him on stage even when he was partnering. As I watched him through the night, I thought he didn’t leap like I thought he might have been able to, but in some ways I felt that might have reflected more of a choice to not make a spectacle of himself (even though I’ve seen few male dancers throw away an opportunity to show off if it presented itself, still sometimes presenting an even medium in one’s execution of a move is more appropriate for creating the right look for a dance). He seemed fairly fleet-footed, but I wasn’t entirely convinced he was able to get the height and move as fast as I’d expect of the best of male leads. Still, I’d very much like to watch him again, in a role in which he was supposed to go bravura, and see what he’s really made of. He’s certainly got the charisma.

The next piece was my Forsythe, new to Scottish Ballet but in fact from 1996, so already several years old when I first saw “In the Middle, Somewhat Elevated.” I’ve seen some pieces by him in the last two years that were very new, and “Workwithinwork” felt very much like a transitional piece; still on toe shoes, dancers suddenly stopping and standing around on stage doing nothing, the legs lifting high with incredible strength and swiftness, the extravagantly rotating arms. The movements seemed to painfully underline the historicity of the Balanchine; these weren’t done by sad waifs who wanted to look pretty for Mr. B: they showed the burning spirit within that I think must be the thing that keeps ballerinas going, a desire to be brilliant and please themselves, burnished in a punishingly competitive environment.

Newer, though, was the loss of focus on interaction, the ensuing isolation of the dancers on stage (occasionally broken by a pas de deux or a rare group interaction); this fragmentation was also reflected by the music, which had neither beginning nor end but just seemed to be a lot of squeaky violin playing (Berio’s Duetti for two violins, not something I’ll be buying any time soon). Then suddenly there was a duet between a small blonde (Kara McLaughlin?) and a man with dark hair, with music that actually sounded like it had fallen out of some world of structured music … and it was really beautiful. Afterwards I’m afraid I lost the plot a bit and got caught up in trivial details like how tall the female corps really was (they looked about 5 foot on average) and just how transparent the men’s pantyhose-style leggings were (dance belts ahoy!). I blame my exhausting work week in general, as I’d enjoy seeing this piece again, but it really just didn’t have the power of his mid-80s works for me. Ah, well, the movement was gorgeous.

The evening ended with Krzysztof Pastor’s “In Light and Shadow,” rather interesting to see so soon after the Brandstrup/Rojo project two weeks ago. My thought was: “Bach! The composer against which choreographers throw themselves again and again, hoping to at last equal his brilliance – with little success.” This piece also used a big chunk of the Brandenberg concerto, the aria, which was now very familiar to me, and I enjoyed Pastor’s light handling of it more than the tweedling and lack of commitment I saw in Brandstrup. However, the whole piece seemed light – brilliant color in the costuming (really, our favorite bit of the whole work – lovely androgynous things, men in skirts, the grace of the transparent suits the first couple wore, strapped-on corsetty tops and shorts, great!), but the movement not memorable or very interesting. It wasn’t bad, mind you, it was just forgettable, other than a brief bit when the lighting went to just 3 feet high on stage and only the women’s legs could be seen beneath their lifted skirts. Still, it’s always nice to end an evening listening to Bach’s Third Orchestral Suite, and on the whole I’d say that I’d be very happy to watch Scottish Ballet again.

(This review is for a performance that took place on Friday, October 2nd, 2009. The last performance at Sadlers’ Wells was on Saturday the 3rd, and I am sorry if you missed it but they do appear to be on tour so you may have an opportunity to see them again.)