Posts Tagged ‘Stravinsky’

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.)

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Review – Birmingham Ballet’s “Stravinsky: A Celebration” (Petrushka, Firebird, Le Baiser de la Fée) – Sadler’s Wells

November 1, 2008

I had a really good evening tonight at the Birmingham Ballet’s Stravinsky program, about which I’d like to say lots and lots with references to all the dancers but since it got out at eleven PM (the program said 10:40), I’m finding myself home just shortly after midnight and not at my most eloquent. (That said since there are two more shows tomorrow, I’m going to give this a brief rundown in case one or two folks out there might be considering going.)

I had seen The Firebird two years back and was very excited about seeing it again by the same company, even more so because the rest of the ballets to be performed were also done to the music of Stravinsky, whom I consider one of the very best ballet composers out there. (Prokofiev, Stravinsky, Tchiakovsky – what is it with the Russians and the ballet composing? Maybe it’s something magical about growing up in a society where ballet is worshiped and classical music is also revered, but the Russians really own the whole “consistently great scores for ballet” category.) I was unfamiliar with the other two (though I’d heard of Petrushka), so I was looking forward to an evening of surprises – though I had no idea I’d have almost three full hours of dance on the table!

Petrushka is a surreal, if fun, ballet. A Chagall-like Russian village is visited by a sort of evil wizard, who plays the flute to make his puppets – a Moor (not PC in any way), a dancer girl, and a clown (Petrushka) – dance. Backstage at his house, we see that his puppets are actually psychologically tortured and kept by demons! At the village the next day, the clown makes a break for it and dies – the end. (Or this is what I thought the story was – I was too cheap to buy a program.) Meanwhile we get lots of great dancing from the various characters in the village, as well as pathos from the clown. My favorite: the two stable boys who blazed their way across stage in leaps of such height I wasn’t even registering them as real. (There was also lots of the squatting and kicking Russian dancing going on, which I have to imagine is not really the best thing for a dancer’s knees.) Petrushka is based on the original choreography (I’m betting) by Mikhail Fokine, and I found it a treat, if bizarre.

A very long break later and we were back for Le Baiser de la Fée, a new ballet choreographed by Michael Corder for Birmingham Ballet based on a story by Hans Christian Anderson (and reading rather a whole lot like the first third of the Snow Queen to me). Let me tell you about this performance: SEXY MALE FAIRIES. Er, well, in the program they are called “sprites” (and backstage they’re known as Aaron Robison and Tom Rogers), but when they were on stage I was about embarassing myself gawking at them. They’re tall, they’re muscular, and rather than just wearing tights, they were dressed in these spangled black and grey flame outfits that crawled up from their hips to their shoulders, with sort of twiggy headdresses on top of it all. My jaw dropped when the came on stage and pretty well stayed there while they were on.

This was probably a good thing and representative of much of what wasn’t great about this part of the show. Costumes: awesome (props to John F. Macfarlane), but the dancing was just not all that when it wasn’t the fairies. “The Bride” (Natasha Oughtred), well, she was cute and lithe, but she seemed … disposable. There was none of the brilliance of a Coppelia, none of the tragedy of an Odette – she was just more or less a space filler, because her dancing said nothing about her. And the male corps, well, I’m afraid this piece really brought out some of their problems with ensemble work during the “village” scenes. Unison? I think it’s more of a concept for them than a goal. I am reminded that it’s invariably the men that define the skill level of a company. Good ballerinas are not that hard to find, but assembling that level of skill in a male corps is a real stretch, presumably because there are so many fewer to go around. A few good companies get to pick and choose, but for a lot of them, they take good enough. It made me miss Pacific Northwest Ballet, I tell you. At any rate, I still enjoyed the ballet, but I don’t think it’s going to become a classic. (I checked and the music was originally written for a ballet of this same name and with the same story. Perhaps some day I can see Balanchine’s version.)

Finally, the Firebird, a ballet with a completely brilliant score, amazing (original Ballet Russes?) costumes (that you can totally see from the balcony – nothing subtle about them!), and nearly perfectly matched choreography. I could feel goosebumps forming as the low rumble of the drums started up in the orchestra pit (though the old people behind me kept talking: people, please SHUT UP during the overture. This is not the commercial break, it is the start of the show. It’s live music! There are people performing down there and you just had twenty five minutes to have that conversation!). Finally the curtain came up and we had our lovely Firebird, Nao Sakuma, darting across stage.

As a character I love the Firebird. She is not a love interest – she remains a wild creature throughout the ballet and only dances with the prince to win her freedom again. It’s great to see movement which fights against the partnering instead of getting all smooth and mushy – and really, even the princess doesn’t do that, just bows formally. It’s a great ballet, one of my top five favorites.

Overall, I very much enjoyed my evening and thought my thirty quid well repaid. And good news: Birmingham Ballet is coming back in the spring (April 14 – 18, 2009) to do a mixed bill (Pomp and Circumstance, they’re calling it, including the amusingly titled “Still Life at the Penguin Cafe”) and “Sylvia” (though not the Ashton choreography so I might go see it) at the London Coliseum. Score!

(This review is for a performance that took place on Friday, October 31st, 2008.)

Review – Mixed Rep Stravinsky Program (Apollo, Firebird, Rite of Spring) – Pacific Northwest Ballet

February 15, 2005

(This mini-review migrated from another blog.)

The ballet tonight was outstanding. You can’t go wrong with Stravinsky. Kent tried, and made a sappy mush of “The Firebird” (please, how can they possibly consider excising the passion between the Prince and the Firebird a good idea?). I noted, as usual, the scene set in hell was far more interesting than the rest of the ballet, especially the goody-goody bit at the end. “Apollo” was a well-executed Balanchine museum-piece, quite enjoyable despite its age and delightful in the way it showed Kent’s style as the watered-down, derivative excuse for choreography that it is. The various pas de quatre with Apollo and the muses were delightful, and really showed the continuity in his style over the decades.

Ah, but the “Rite of Spring.” I suspect I’ve never seen this done as a dance before, and not heard it live, either; the almost sub-audible rumble of the drums at one point was unfamiliar and made me think I’ve been listening to inferior recordings. My hair stood a bit on end from the first sinister notes of the oboe, and the tension continued throughout the piece. When the “victim” was hoisted from the stage in the final moment as if being crucified, a man to my right shouted, “Yes!” and his unrehearsed enthusiasm matched my own. What an incredible work of choreography: go Glen Tetley! I’d see it again if it were possible.

(This review is for a performance that took place on February 15th, 2005.)