Posts Tagged ‘Tzu-Chao Chou’

Mini-review – Aladdin – Birmingham Royal Ballet at London Coliseum

March 22, 2013

A new, full-length ballet is always a cause for celebration in this age of fiscal cutbacks, so I was excited that Birmingham Royal Ballet was bringing its production of Aladdin to London for all of us Big Smoke dwellers to see. Whee! What would David Bintley have on offer?

Well, one thing we did get was some awesome costumes and some really awesome sets. For me, the best part of the whole evening was when my favorite set (the magic cave, complete with color changing, glowing stalactites) met the greatest variety of costumes, producing the best set of dances … a new set of “Jewels,” as dancers representing the treasures of the Djinn swirled and capered around the open-jawed Aladdin (and then dropped a few gifts into his turban). My favorite was gold and silver, the men (William Bracewell and Tom Rogers) looking like incarnations of Louis XIV, the women (Yvette Knight and Yijing Zhang) with silver half-moons on their heads reminding me of Renaissance paintings of Artemis. I also enjoyed the exoticism of the Rubies duet (Momoko Hirata and Joseph Caley) – it had a nice feel of many of the Arabian/Coffee sequences from The Nutcracker.

Also a pleasure to watch was Tzu-Chao Chou as The Djinn of the Lamp, a role which gave him, not just the opportunity to fly around with smoke in the air, but lots of opportunity for spins and leaps and general displays of virtuousity. I don’t mean to sound too shallow, but I am in serious admiration of the very flattering costume he was wearing – the cut of the legs fluttered nicely, adding to the sense of motion.

While the plotting of the ballet was good and did not descend into Panto silliness (Aladdin meets evil magician; Aladdin is taken to cave and locked in; Aladdin escapes with help of lamp, marries local princess; princess inadvertently trades old lamp for new and is kidnapped by magician; Aladdin uses his wits to set everything right, unless you are the evil magician; triumphal scene in palace), I found the thing felt a bit like a pastiche of dance as well as music, and lacked a unifying driving force to it. I do enjoy spectacle, and we got both a lion dance and a dragon dance, as well as great animated puppets (showing the princess, Djinn and evil magician in the sky), but I wanted something more. Would a strong score have made a difference? Is Bintley’s strength in choreographing shorter ballets? I couldn’t make up my mind at the end of the night where the fault lie. I enjoyed myself enough, but I wanted greatness, and this was not achieved.

(This review is for a performance that took place on the night of Thursday, March 21st, 2013. It continues at the London Coliseum through March 24th; bargain seats might be found on the day at the TKTS booth; I got stalls seats for £25!)

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Review – Autumn Glory (Checkmate, Symphonic Variations, Pineapple Poll) – Birmingham Royal Ballet at Sadler’s Wells

October 21, 2011

The Birmingham Royal Ballet opened their fall visit to London with a series of ballets that were a treat of historical information – ballets by the great and the good of years gone by, that I’d mostly only ever known by images (“Ooh, look at those hats!”) or reputation (“What, you say there’s a ballet done to the music of Gilbert and Sullivan?”). I’ve seen a fair amount of Ashton (represented in this case by his “Symphonic Variations”), but I was burning with curiosity over Ninette de Valois’s “Checkmate,” which has some of the strangest costumes I’ve ever seen (excepting some of the Surrealist designed ones done for Diaghilev). And “Pineapple Poll,” well, I’d seen a version of it done by Spectrum Dance in 2004 (with choreography by Donald Byrd), but I anticipated that this one would also be a good time.

In practice, Checkmate won the prize for weird classic ballet of the year. While the movements of the various chess pieces were supposed to be stylized versions of their actual allowed movements in the game, I was not able to see this. Instead, I was caught up in drama and metaphor, as the seductive Black Queen (Victoria Marr) went from terrorizing to enticing the Red Knights (Iain Mackay and Jamie Bond), dropping their guard enough that she was able to pull Iain in for a kill. The queen’s rattling of her daggers and bum-shaking was almost insect-like; she was certainly menacing and a most unique (ballet) character as a deadly female. Unfortunately I found myself spending more time thinking about what it all “meant” rather than enjoying the movement. (It seemed to me to be warning of the rise of the forces that would lead to World War II; I assumed the gentle but weak “reds” were supposed to be England.) The aesthetic pleasures were most certainly there, but I hadn’t actually come (I promise!) to ogle the very handsome male dancers. The use of poles was fascinating, however, from grills to put dead pieces on to traps (when surrounding the checked Red King (Jonathan Payn)) to simply the linear effect they had on stage (very good with the graphics of the drop) – it was a most unique effect. However, unfortunately, I don’t feel this piece reached me either through dance or generated emotion – it seemed very much like an intellectual effort and one that hadn’t aged well.

“Symphonic Variations,” by Ashton, failed to make almost any impression on me at all. Three men in white, toga-like half-shirts (phoar!) paired three women in white with pleated, short skirts (design Sophie Fedorovitch); and while I loved Cesar Franck’s piano music (thank you Jonathan Higgins!) I was only able to think of Balanchine’s “Apollo,” which I’ve frequently groused about for being too silly and male ego-centric. However, I felt Balanchine’s choreography glowed like a sun, and Ashton’s was a pale moon beside it – not Diana so much as Phobos. Chi Cao was a strong lead and great partner to Natasha Oughtred, but … I found the choreography forgettable even if I was having a bit of a Chippendale’s experience as I sat blushing in my chair.

Next up was “Pineapple Poll,” and as the curtain rose on a cartoony set painted to look like an 1830s port town, my heart sunk a bit; it looked like I was in for 45 minutes of twee. A bevy of ladies came in and danced with young men dressed as sailors; some drama developed as the pub lackey (Tzu-Chao Chou, officially credited as “Jasper the potboy”) showed clearly he was in love with Pineapple Poll (Carol-Anne Millar), a “bumboat woman” (this appears to be a person who makes a living selling stuff to people who live on ships). But then Captain Belaye (Robert Parker) showed up, the women started swooning over him … and Birmingham Royal Ballet exploded in a festival of fantastic dancing and expressive acting that made me completely lose track of my critic’s notebook. The girls were a series of faints and flutterings, the boat’s crewmen were angry and boisterous, the simpering fiancee, Blanche (Arancha Baselga), a hoot … at the time I thought it was just a case of good choreography but in fact it was the cast that took the structure and covered the whole thing with ribbons and fun. Just like in Gilbert and Sullivan operettas, it’s not just one or two good leads that make the show, it’s everyone in the cast giving it 100% and acting like they, too, could be the full focus of someone’s attention at any given moment. Millar was amazing, a real comic genius, so expressive with her body. She owned the stage when she was on it and is now on my top list of ballerinas to arrange my show schedule around. But everyone was just so very good in this show and there’s no doubt for me it was the highlight of the night. Thanks, guys, for another marvellous evening out.

(This review is for a performance that took place on Tuesday, October 18th, 2011 at Sadler’s Wells. It was repeated on October 19th. For a five star review of the alternate cast, see Clement Crisp; Mark Monahan’s less excited review is here.)