Posts Tagged ‘Theme and variations’

Review – American Ballet Theater mixed rep program 2 (Theme and Variations, Jardin aux Lilas, Tchai Pas, Company B) – Sadler’s Wells

February 3, 2011

The big star of Sadler’s Wells winter/spring season is American Ballet Theater’s two mixed reps taking place from Tuesday February 1st through Sunday February 6th. It’s importance could be seen in the pricing structure alone: at £70 for stalls seats, it’s the single most expensive event in the season. Fortunately, a late-arriving two-fer Metro offer reduced the pain of top priced seats, and with my own members discounted seats clutched in my hot little hands, I eagerly made my way to Islington last night to see what joys the second rep would bring.

The curtain raised on a very dusty-looking Balanchine: “Theme and Variations.” Gah, his “let’s do homage to the Russian Imperial Style” ballets tend to make me yawn, and I’ve seen this one before to boot, and it just all looked so … bleah, so “grandma’s bedroom circa 1950” with its moribund color scheme. The corps dancers were sloppy, too, suffering to reach unison, looking drab in grey and purple tutus, and generally giving the impression that they were City Ballet castoffs who hadn’t managed to capture the Balanchine style. Was this somehow supposed to be acceptable? Our male lead, David Hallberg, appeared, and he looked like a steer stunned for slaughter. Was everyone suffering from jet lag? I had a bad feeling about the evening to come.

Then a woman in a pink tutu, our prima for this piece, started to bubble up through the smotheringly poor corps work and make herself noticed. With her gorgeous red hair, she would have been hard to miss; she looked like Moira Shearer redone as a California girl, with gorgeous, strong arms, high cheekbones, and stage presence to die for. This miracle, Gillian Murphy, proceeded to give a performance that kept my skin going in goosebumps for the rest of the evening. Everything was perfect: the way she held or tilted her head, the arch of her back, the smiles she gave at the right time, the eye contact with her partner … it was like watching a movie, a recording of “and this is how you should execute this perfectly, as it was meant to be.” The way she ran her foot up her (standing) leg before making a great extension was like she was praying; I lost all sense of time during the pas de deux. I stopped looking at the corps altogether (making it easier to not notice their shortcomings); Murphy glowed like a gold nugget and I couldn’t be bothered to waste our precious time together staring at sand.

After a break to catch our breath, we returned to “Jardin Aux Lilas,” a remount of a 1936 ballet created by Anthony Tudor for Ballet Rambert (and taken by ABT in 1940). It had a dreamy, Southern feel, like Kate Chopin’s “Awakening” or some Tennessee Williams play, all stoppered passion and disappointment and duty under moon-lit, moss-covered trees. While I can say I enjoyed the scenery and atmosphere, I found the dancing itself not very interesting and wholly narrative: man and woman are to be married, his mistress wants him back, her true love wants a last kiss. They all end frustrated. Ah well, it was enjoyable as a historical frippery but not really very exciting.

That was delivered almost immediately following in the “Tchaikovsky Pas de Deux,” in which we had Xiomara Reyes and Herman Cornejo running through an eight minute long “missing duet” from Swan Lake that Balanchine created in 1960. It started out slow and pleasant, giving us time to examine our principals; Xiomara had a strange build, very short waisted with a round face; Cornejo with a comical mop of curls. Once he was left to dance solo, I forgot all about his hair; his leaps had a height and “air” that seemed unreal coming out of his small body, and his solid spins … it was the embodiment of “con brio.” Xiomara was light enough but not really airy in her solos; I was contaminated by having seen Ashley Bouder do the same piece in October, and Reyes simply couldn’t match her. This was most painfully obvious in the big finale, in which the ballerina leaps into the arms of her partner and is caught and swept to the ground so her chin nearly brushes the stage. Bouder did this with such enthusiasm my hair stood on end; I thought for sure she would hit her head. Perhaps it was Cornejo’s fault, as he clearly caught her while she was still upright and then swept her down; but somehow before it looked just like a dive to the floor arrested at the last minute before, and there was none of that tension (and excitement) here. Still, this was very enjoyable.

We finished with “Company B,” one of those ballets done to popular music that tends to send the audience home with a smile. I didn’t expect it to be deep; but it managed to be pretty and somewhat complex in its mostly illustrative movements (telling the stories the Andrews Sisters’ songs lyrics conveyed), a real improvement over something like the weak “As Time Goes By” done by Northern Ballet Theater (not too surprising given Paul Taylor’s stature). I loved Arron Scott’s body-jerking in “Tico Tico,” and the comedy of a flock of girls hovering of nerdy David Sedaris clone Craig Salstein in “Oh Johnny, Oh Johnny, Oh!” with his hips stuck forward about a foot gave me good laughs. I’m willing to take it light sometimes and get away from all the bravura for a little fun, and I do enjoy seeing ballet engage with the pop music vernacular (even though the 1940s isn’t particularly modern!), so I just let myself relax and watch the company present itself well (although I was creeped out by “Rum and Coca-cola,” has anyone actually listened to the lyrics of that song recently?). All in all, the evening was really good, and I can’t wait to go back on Friday and see the first rep – and see Gillian Murphy perform again.

(This review is for a performance that took place on Wednesday February 2nd, 2011.)

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Mini-review – Royal Ballet – Mixed Rep: La Valse / Invitus Invitam / Winter Dreams / Theme and Variations

October 25, 2010

To my delight, my season at the Royal Ballet opened with not a triple bill, but a previously not-experience “quadruple bill,” with the ever-mysterious “new work” forming the star at the apex of the crown. Ooh ooh! What ever would we get to see? In this case it was a new Brandstrup, which I had hopes for, and a Balanchine, woo hoo! Then there was … duh duh DUUUUUUHM! … a long MacMillan. Damn. I had just swore him off forever after seeing Birmingham Royal Ballet’s Romeo and Juliet, but I had to stick through it to get to the Balanchine. Damn, damn and damn.

Fortunately the night got off to a sparkling start with Ashton’s La Valse. I was fascinated by the music – not some cheesy Strauss stuff (I’ve had a lifetime’s worth courtesy of Paradise Found) but Ravel, pulling us into the music with a bunch of dissonant noise, as if all was not right with the world. The dancers, men in formal wear and women in fluffy, mid-calf dresses in varying pastels, looked straight out of a 1950s girl’s bedroom (my companion described it as “looking like a perfume ad”). The dancing didn’t knock my socks off, but the coordinated movement was lovely to watch, though … truth be told … the coordination was a bit off. I got a sudden whiff of “oh, so this is the Royal Ballet B cast,” but, still, I got a guilty pleasure out of it. It even wound up to a sort of “Masque of the Red Death” like fury at the end as the music got all dissonant again, and I felt RAH yes, good start to the night.

Then we moved into “Invitus Invitam,” the new work by Kim Brandstrup. This has got to go down as the best use of projections I’ve ever seen on stage: they were used to change a flat wall into a brick one, show the movement of the dancers as planned out on a computer program (I think), give us titles to the various movements, and (in the one naff bit) show the shadow of someone running offstage. We were led into it very gently, with the lights still up and people guiding set pieces onto the stage while the orchestra tootled a bit … then the two people directing the set pieces started acting like dancers trying to figure out a bit of movement … then the lights went down and we were suddenly sure that yes, this was the ballet happening. Then suddenly we had dressed up dancers, a man and a woman (Christina Arestis and Bennet Gartside, I believe – though the man did look like Ed Watson so maybe it was Leanne Benjamin) in court dress, moving around in ways I found … well, not emotionally engaging. He appeared to be trying to entice or seduce her, she appeared to be holding out – and then the man would run away, and the woman would look bereft. Then the lights would change dramatically, and the stage manager looking couple would come back on. In the final movement, it was the man who was left alone and the woman who ran away … and though it was an intelligent piece and pretty to watch, I’m afraid it just left me a bit dry. Still, my enthusiasm for the evening had not waned.

But … next up was the medicine to accompany the sugar: a 53 minute long MACMILLAN piece based on … wait for it … CHEKHOV. His play Three Sisters was the first Russian play I ever saw, and the theme of whinging people doing nothing to fix their lives, of the pathetic passivity of the bourgeoisie, left me dead inside. I had some hopes that the “music by Tchaikovsky” bit would rescue it … but no. It dragged. And dragged. The audience coughed, they dropped things, the man next to me checked the time on his phone FIVE TIMES, time stopped. The men were generally dancing quite well in a way I do see as typical of MacMillan, but … well, there was one beautiful bit: a duet between Vershinin (Thiago Soares) and Masha (Sarah Lamb) as he decides to leave her. It had the power of the little excerpts you often see in galas, of all of the heart and passion of the entire thing wrapped up in one little perfect bit of dance; and I hope some day I will see this in a gala. Shortly thereafter, two soldiers met for a duel. One of them was shot and died. My thought: “The lucky bastard. I have to wait until this is over before I get to leave.”

Still, I was more than eager to come back for the last bit, “Theme and Variations,” and what a lovely little meringue it was. To be honest, I think the corps dancers were continuing to be sloppy, but I was unwilling to let that detract from my overall enjoyment. It’s kind of embarassing, really, that I was just reveling in all of the shiny tutus and glittering tiaras and all of the utterly most shallow stuff about ballet, and enjoying the movement and just kind of letting myself go. I hadn’t brought my notebook because I really just wanted to be in the moment, and I was, and while Ibi and I both agreed the dancing was not as good as it should have been, still, we left the evening happy and satisfied and looking forward very much to our next ballet excursion, when, with luck, we will finally pick the A cast and get what we are really hoping for: perfection, without any gloomy, bum-numbing MacMillan to take the fun away.

(This review is for a performance that took place on Friday, October 22nd, 2010. The final performances are October 28th and 30th, and I highly recommend you book for this really solid night of dance. Even Clement Crisp loved it, it had to be good!)