Posts Tagged ‘Wayne Macgregor’

Ballet review – As One, Rushes, Infra – Royal Ballet at the Royal Opera House

February 23, 2010

On Friday I went to the Royal Opera House to catch the world premiere of “As One,” the first mainstage ballet create by Jonathan Watkins of the Royal Ballet. I always try to catch triple bills like this one, but there was the extra added bonus of highly affordable stalls seats and a Wayne MacGregor ballet to entice me to come. Still, brand new ballet! It’s always a cause to celebrate.

While I’m happy that Royal Ballet is giving new choreographers the experience of working on the mainstage, I’m afraid “As One” didn’t really gel for me, despite the generally enthusiastic reception it’s received elsewhere (see Ballet.co.uk for the long list). The varied scenes, moving from random dancing to a party to people sitting in a waiting room, seemed to have little common thread linking them, and individually, while there was perhaps some interesting movement, I wasn’t able to catch a real narrative to make the arabesque HERE mimed use of channel changer HERE form any kind of coherent whole. The best scene to me was Laura Morera and Edward Watson’s “Channel Surfing” scene, in which a couple dealt with the familiar “all you do is watch TV, you never pay attention to me” conundrum, though I didn’t really feel it worth of depiction on stage. However, their interaction was very real, and lent itself to the final sequence of the ballet, which seemed to be saying “If only we could get into that little box, we could actually be living real lives – or maybe it’s the fantasy we need to bring into reality.” While I enjoyed Simon Daw’s flexible set design, I found the production overall a limp squib, one that I think won’t be getting remounted anywhere else and will be lucky even to be revived again. Still, I’m glad to have seen it, and I’m looking forward to watching Watkins grow over time.

Next up was “Rushes,” a piece I’d not seen before, but given that the music was by Prokofiev and Carlos Acosta was going to be providing an (unexpected for me) star turn, I was feeling pretty positive about the possibilities. This ballet was full of mysteries for me (especially since I hadn’t shelled out for a program – why have they become so expensive?), but, watching the movie projected on the bead screen at the front of the stage and the strange Expressionist set behind, I decided to read it as a story about a person who’d fallen in love with a movie star (Laura Morera, the woman in the red dress) – not a real person, but someone who only existed inside of the movies (sort of like Neil Gaiman’s short story “Goldfish Pond”). As I read it, he was able to break into his fantasy world, but was ultimately rejected by it and forced to return to reality, where poor Alina Cojocaru was still waiting for him.

Carlos was, as ever, a great partner – well, okay, he did actually look like he was having a problem getting Alina over his shoulders smoothly – and he performed cartwheels and hanstands effortlessly. Still, there’s something increasingly heavy about how he moves, and he’s having a hard time holding the stage after Steve McRae comes on. This production seemed well suited to the Carlos persona, however, and instead of wincing at overacting, instead I was able to just enjoy his unfettered displays of passion. And yay for Kim Brandstrup, I really enjoyed this ballet.

In keeping with the night’s theme of “the inability to make human connection,” we finished with MacGregor’s “Infra,” a work I’d seen before. This was much improved by being watched from the stalls, as from my normal upper amphitheater seats, Julian Opie’s videoscape of animated people walking across the upper half of the stage (hanging in the air) is on equal weight with the actual people and very difficult to ignore. Now I could really focus on the dancers, and, as ever, given amazing choreography, they rose to the challenge. Like last time, the most can’t-tear-your-eyes away moment was the duet Erik Underwood performed with (was it?) Sarah Lamb, a tiny slip of a woman (perhaps the same couple MacGregor used in “Limen” though I’m not sure).

I spent some time trying to understand why this duet was so much more emotionally powerful than the ones that were taking place even within the same work, and I think it came down to them making eye contact with each other throughout; instead of the woman just being manipulated by the man, she was a full partner in what they were doing, and the effect was heady, not to mention erotic (the undulating hips added to it a lot). I knew what was coming, though; the dance would lead to the point of abandonment, the tiny blonde curled up on stage, wrecked, while the many other people – the tide of humanity – walked by her. There are so many of us and yet it is so hard to connect with each other, and it’s heartbreaking to be reminded of our essential loneliness. Still, to feel like that watching ballet on stage is actually rather uplifting – it’s a wonderful place to find beauty in sadness, and a great feeling to walk out into the night with. Overall, this was a good triple bill, and I’m really glad to have been there.

(This review is for a performance that took place on Friday, February 19th, 2010. The program continues through March 4th.)

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!

Review – Purcell’s Dido and Aeneas – Royal Opera House

April 18, 2009

Wanye Macgregor directing Baroque opera, with the Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment providing the accompaniment? Really, when I read about this production of Dido and Aeneas at the Royal Opera House, I thought someone might have been reading through my mind and picking my dream production. Movement has frequently been a problem with Baroque opera for me (i.e. Partenope), and I thought with Macgregor, not only would this be taken care of, but we would actually have someone with enough imagination and vision to really shake up the the whole Baroque opera “thing.”

I don’t really like opera, and the only opera I do consistently enjoy IS Baroque/early music opera, but it has this horrible tendency to be staged in a manner I find just painful. It’s really all about the artistry of the singing, see, so there are these long bits where people are just standing there … singing. Sometimes this means that, well, basically someone is frozen on stage while they make really pretty noises, and sometimes … and this is worse … the director decides this singing thing, it must be very dull, I need to make sure the audience is entertained, a la the mortifying Orfeo we saw the English Touring Opera perform, and then my ability to enjoy what is coming in my ears is destroyed by my desire to claw my eyes out to get away from the horror that is on the stage in front of me.

So. Totally modern, “with it” guy taking on Baroque Opera? I say, Bring It On! It’s not a case of making a silk purse out of a sow’s ear (of not trusting the material), it’s an opportunity to take a really unusual ingredient to a master chef and, let’s say, make a mole’ out of ultra-dark chocolate. In addition, to me it promised the opportunity to see some great dance on stage in addition to the whole orchestra/singers shebang, so BIG STOKE!

Except for … well, the fact that on April 15th, I was just coming back from a 14 day vacation. And exhausted. Which is why I am not also reviewing Acis and Galatea. Do forgive me for this! But 90 more minutes of show after a 25 minute intermission – I don’t know what I was thinking when I booked tickets for a weeknight instead of on a weekend. I couldn’t risk being shot all of the next day at work, so I gave my modest side balcony seats to someone in the slips, realizing I was going to be missing out on a lot of great music in favor of, er, keeping my job. Ah well.

The curtain arose on the overture to show a stage with a very modern/postmodern design – a simple stage with a perhaps shoulder height light colored rectangular box on it about two thirds in, and the light-grey, Greek-esque robed Dido (Sarah Connolly) having her maid, Belinda (understudy Simona Mihai, filling in for the evening) fiddle with her dress. The overall feel for the costuming was greys (darker for the rest of the cast) and fairly simple robes … except for the dancers, who wore sleeveless shirts and black short shorts. It had a very unified feel to it, and much fresher than usual, and while the women and townsfolk looked fairly, if anonymously, classical, the men (well, Aeneas and a few of his shipmates) in their rather Japanese wide, split pants did manage to look different. Aeneas, though, wore what looked like a scarab beetle chest piece, which cracked me up. The costuming generally help focus attention on the singers, though, which was good.

I’m actually not very good at talking about singing, and should have taken many more notes to try to prod my memory (three days later) so that I could discuss it better. Sarah seemed good at Baroque singing, full of trills and expressiveness. Her movement on stage wasn’t histrionic, but neither was she stiff. Simona did sound years younger than her mistress, which was good, and benefited from sounding generally fresh and excited to be on stage. While I expect she’ll sound even better as her voice matures, it was a pleasure to watch and listen to her. Aeneas (Lucas Meachem) was fine, but the opera doesn’t focus on him so much and even a few days later I can’t remember how he sounds. I do remember what a laugh I got out of the Siamese twin First and Second Witches (Eri Nakamura and Pumeza Matshikiza) – it sure added a lot of visual interest to what in a previous viewing of this opera had been a very snoozy scene!

On to the choreography, which was a lot more of why I came to this. In general, the movements of the principles and the chorus on stage was far better than I’ve seen in any Baroque opera since I’ve moved to England (I usually manage two or three a year). They didn’t move just because there was nothing else going on on stage, but mostly to move the story forward; the massing during the scene in the witches’ lair was very good, while the couples promenading and cooing during the “grove” scene (“Thanks to these lovesome vales”) and the snuggling and then leave-taking of “Come away, fellow sailors” really increased the dramatic impact of the music.

However, the effect of the dancers was mixed. In part it was because of their costumes; to suddenly throw these ultra-sexy, bare-legged creatures on stage with people parading around in robes just pulls your focus right off the story and into the present. In the scenes where they were filling in for an unsung musical interlude, they were generally good, even though the dance didn’t feel quite integrated into the “feel” of the piece. In the scene where a dancer took the role of Mercury/”Spirit” (as sung deliciously by Iestyn Davies) and mimed the content/feel of his speech to Aeneas (telling him he must leave Carthage) was perfect; gorgeously lit, the offstage voice adding more to the otherworldly feel of the scene, the dancer himself looking very much like an incarnation of a god. However, during the witches’ scene, “Here Actaeon met his fate,” the dancing made me think of tits on a bull – it just didn’t fit (the costumes and movement were so wrong for the moment) and was a complete distraction. Ah well, perhaps more experience with this kind of work will lead to Macgregor getting the format right.

Overall, though, this evening proved to me that Baroque opera can be just as enjoyable to watch as it is to listen to, and I look forward to seeing such a strong performance in the future.

(This review is for a performance that took place on April 15th, 2009. Two more performances are set for Saturday, April 18th and Monday, April 20th. This is the Dido you will want to see this spring!)

New season booking opens at ROH today

February 4, 2009

I am right in line to buy my tickets to Dido and Aeneas/Acis and Galatea as choreographed by Wayne MacGregor! What an awesome meeting for my love of early music (Handel and Purcell!) and my love of dance – I mean, my God, the Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment? And Mr. Macgregor? I’m so there! (And he needs a nickname, doesn’t he? Wayne seems too informal … Jimmy Mack too Detroit … what should I call him?)

Here’s the blurb: “Two great works of British Baroque opera in new interpretations by Wayne McGregor, Resident Choreographer of The Royal Ballet, make for a very special evening with The Royal Opera in collaboration with The Royal Ballet. Also, we celebrate 350 years since the birth of Purcell and 250 after the death of Handel with these complementary works on classical themes, which remain as appealing in melody and seductive in rhythm as ever.

“To both, McGregor brings his individual and acclaimed approach to the fusion of music and movement in settings of richly layered design and atmospheric lighting. Purcell’s Dido and Aeneas contrasts musically and dramatically the supernatural with personal tragedy – there are the witches who delight in destruction, but at the heart is Dido, Queen of Carthage, whose Lament is one of the most famous and beautiful pieces of English opera. The pastoral mood of Handel’s Acis and Galatea also turns dark as the eponymous loves are threatened by the monster Polyphemus, but its succession of arias and choruses show its unique charm. With Christopher Hogwood conducting the Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment and soloists including Sarah Connolly as Dido, this programme will have an especially rich musical interpretation.”

I can’t believe booking just opened an hour or two and it’s almost sold out! I’m getting some tickets for the triple bill (Les Sylphides / New Marriott / The Firebird) in May while I’m online.

LATER: Bought! Unfortunately my tickets are near thet end of the run. Maybe I’ll get lucky and find a pair for opening night so I can get a review in while it’s hot.

Review – Three Short Works (Voluntaries, The Lesson, Infra) – The Royal Ballet

November 27, 2008

Last night was my long awaited trip to the Royal Opera House to see Wayne McGregor’s new work, “Infra.” However, it was not the only work on the program; it was the final work on the program, which was rather a compliment, as my experience has been that mixed rep ballet sandwiches are usually stacked “nice/boring ballet” “the thing that makes you feel weird” “the big winner with the crowd scene that sends you home feeling energized.” “Chroma” got the “weird” placement, with the missible “Danse a Grande Vitesse” the supposed “feel good” finale, but it seems that the Royal Ballet were feeling more confident this time that McGregor could be the anchor for a show. It was a shame in some ways, but as there was nothing in the evening I really didn’t like, I mostly just minded that I wound up getting home after 11 PM on a weeknight.

“Voluntaries” (choreographed by Glen Tetley) was something I’d seen before, but I was still happy to see it what with Marianela Nunez leading the cast. The costumes are a horrible 80s look with big open chests for the men and the women in white, but it’s cool to hear the awesome Poulenc organ music blasting across the house while the women are being thrown around. To me the piece has a really primeval feel to it, with the big, sparkly, universe/sun cirhttps://webcowgirl.wordpress.com/wp-admin/post-new.php
Webcowgirl’s Theatre Reviews › Create New Post — WordPresscle on the back of the stage and the woman looking like they are being offered up as sacrifices; but though a lot of contorting goes on, I think it’s my conclusion that this work just doesn’t thrill me. Nunez was full of energy, lithe as can be, and amazingly muscular, but … I guess I wanted her to have an opportunity to do more and be carried around less.

“The Lesson” (choreography by Flemming Flindt) was a ballet I’ve actually been very interested in seeing since I first heard about it. What a story – wicked ballet master manipulates and kills student! My uncle said it seemed like an upscale Sweeney Todd, though it wasn’t quite – it was more of an Expressionistic piece, a comic Grand Guignol ballet, with a movie-like set of greens and blues and greys and yellows. Johan Kobborg did a great job of being a psychotic teacher – it’s actually one of the best “acting” roles I’ve seen for a man in a ballet in a dog’s age. Roberta Marquez was an adorable pupil, light on her feet, expressive, and impressive in her ability to dance while someone was holding on to her ankles (is this actually something they do in dance school?). Kristen McNally was fun to watch as The Pianist, a sort of assistant to the teacher, like Mrs. Lovett in Sweeney, but with huge, exaggerated actions. I was afraid I’d be terrified and shocked by the ending, but it was all over really fast and just came off as a bit of black humor, to my relief.

Well, then, on to the main event (after another thirty minute interval – what in the world are they thinking!), we finally got on to Infra, the star of my evening. Sadly, I can’t go on about it at length right now, as it’s late and I’m too exhausted to talk much. To me, the ballet seemed to be a lot about how people live and interact with each other, the kind of connections we make, the way you can be surrounded by so many people and actually be completely lonely. The movement didn’t have the shock to me of “Chroma,” which is probably in part because I’ve become more familiar with the vocabulary of movement MacGregor uses, but it also didn’t feel as sharp edged – but it was a more introspective piece overall.

The soundscape, by Chris Eckers, was very … well – it’s really hard to describe. There were violins playing at times, and at other times there were scratchy noises, and al the time this was going on, overhead there was a LED art thing by Julian Opie of people walking, walking, walking by, which I stopped paying attention to, though it kept going. And I got lost in the noise, and the movement, and the truly amazing lighting (Lucy Carter), and the dancers caressed and fought with one another, and they touched and brushed and manhandled each other, and Melissa Hamilton was tiny and so flexible and strong that at one point as Eric Underwood was folding her inside out, the people behind me gasped in amazement. And then all of these people came walking, walking, walking out of the wings, walking in an endless stream, mirroring the images that had been showing above them forever, while one woman fell apart in the middle of the stage, broken and ignored by the crowd … and then she disappeared into them, and “the great river ran on.” It was an awesome moment.

And, well, I guess I wish I could watch it again. I really liked it a lot.

  • (This review is for a performance that took place on Wednesday, November 26th. This was the last performance of this set of dances.)

  • Great deal on Wayne Macgregor’s Infra at the Royal Opera House

    November 24, 2008

    The unheard of has happened: LastMinute.com has a deal on tickets to the Royal ballet (£30 tickets for £17 LATER: THESE HAVE SOLD OUT, NOW IT’S £38 FOR ORCHESTRA SEATS). In this case, it is the short works featuring new Wayne Macgregor ballet (Infra). Since I was sick last week, that means I’ll get to go after all!

    Great deal on Wayne Macgregor’s “Infra” tonight; and preview review (November)

    November 13, 2008

    Well! That Facebook membership has paid off at last, as the Royal Opera group has posted half priced seats for Wayne Macgregor’s new work, “Infra.” These are even realistically priced tickets as it’s £30 and £22 balcony seats for £15 – reducing a £117 seat to £55 (like for Electra) doesn’t really help me much! Unfortunately I can’t really take advantage of it as I’m going next week – tonight I’ll be settling down in a riad in Morocco and ballet’s not really an option.

    Meanwhile I noticed that I’m doing a poor job of attending fresh content to my blog, in part because I’ve been travelling an awful lot – but also because I’ve got my uncle coming to visit at the end of this month and I’m stocking up for when he gets here. The schedule for the rest of the month looks like this:
    Nov 18: First, Linbury Studio, ROH
    Nov 19: The “Wayne Macgregor New Thing” at the ROH (and some other works but … I know why I’m going)
    Nov 20: Sankai Juku butoh program at Sadler’s Wells
    Nov 28: August, Osage County at the National (so excited!)
    Nov 29: Cinderella, Lyric Hammersmith
    Dec 2: A Little Night Music, the Menier Chocolate Factory
    December 5: Mother Goose, Hackney Empire
    Dec 6: Between the Devil and the Deep Blue Sea – Battersea Arts Centre
    Dec 12: Christmas Carol (the musical), some pub in Islington

    And that will be it until we go to New York over the holidays. I’m realizing a lot of good theater time in my schedule is also being blocked out by apartment hunting. Well, that will be an incentive to find a place soon – the sooner I have one, the sooner I can start going out again!

    Review – Mariinsky (Kirov) Ballet, Forsythe Program – Sadler’s Wells

    October 14, 2008

    Last night was a wonderful opening to the Mariinsky’s visit to London. I was especially excited when I read about it (seemingly months ago!) and saw that they were doing an all-Forsythe program. I am a huge Forsythe fan. Forsythe makes ballet exciting and full of energy in a way I would have never though possible. His dances show off the physical prowess of the dancers and completely strips away the “preciousness” of ballet, re-casting it as an event in which athletes at their prime show us just what they can do with the bodies and skills they’ve spent years creating. Also, Forsythe’s work seems so challenging that it changes the mentality of the dancers performing it. When dancing Forsythe, mild mannered performers suddenly become tigers, excited about performing something that pushes their technique. In short, William Forsythe makes great dancers excellent, and I love to watch that happen on the stage – it makes me want to jump up and shout, a feeling I get from almost no other choreographer out there (Wayne Macgregor excluded).

    The evening had four works, one of them (“Two Ballets in the Manner of the Late 20th Century”) presented as if it were one piece, but with works so thematically different I couldn’t really see it as a unit. The first ballet was “Steptext,” my favorite of the evening, a work for one woman (the brilliant Ekaterina Kondaurova, red haired and perfect for the role) and three men (Igor Kolb, Mikhail Lobukhin, and Alexander Sergeyev) done to the Bach Partita 2 in D minor. But the whole piece, including the music, messed with the audience’s expectations. First, the dance started without lowering the house lights – I think a dancer (Sergeyev?) just showed up on stage and started dancing without music (though perhaps the curtains were opened and he was just there). The audience kept talking, not noticing, while this main was moving his arms around in a hypnotic pattern – then there was a jolt of music – then silence again.

    The audience kept quieting down, but the house lights stayed up for a long time, then went to half light, then went down, but came up to midway before it was over. And the music was just a brief screech of the Partita for probably the first five minutes, during which the first dancer just walked off stage and the other two men showed up. When the woman showed up – dressed in red in comparison to the men’s sleeveless black leotards (and dominating the stage because of this) – she did a series of movements with her arms that appeared to be defining a box. This seemed to set up a language that was repeated by the men later in the piece.

    From this point forward the piece became more about the men dancing with the woman, although the men all had their own time in the spotlight and also danced with each other. The action was furious at times, with the woman lifted up, dropped into the splits, and then picked up again (a movement that made my husband’s and my jaws drop), rolled up a man’s body, and (I think) rotated, while leaning back and on her toes. She also ran backwards on the tops of her feet … it was crazy! Meanwhile, the men were like great gorgeous animals, their entrechat (is this the right word? – the crossing of the feet over each other) seemed to show that they were not just muscle but grace, also. I was entranced, and I loved the movement, and the fact I’d come to the show with only six hours of sleep just faded from my awareness. It was great.

    The next piece, Approximate Sonata, was a series of pas de deux about which I took few notes. The tracksuit-like costumes the men wore were pretty heinous, and Ryu Yi Jeon was so thin it made my stomach feel a little off, but the movement was good. I saw a theme I’d seen in Forsythe’s pieces before – a female dancer refusing to partner with someone, being approached and then refusing to let herself be touched. I like that, actually – it makes the dancers feel much more human, and kind of focuses your mind on some of the expectations of what will happen on stage. The piece ended with Ksenia Dubrovina (I think – it was the heaviest of the dancers, a really busty woman with incredibly strong legs, basically the embodiment of the strength you get with maturity versus the flexibility and agility that comes with youth) working through what to do (in Russian!) with her partner, then finally her dancing on stage while he sat and watched while the curtain came down, so all that you saw at the last was her feet.

    While I was watching this, my brain went on a bit of a tangent about the current state of choreography in ballet. First, in my mind, Forsythe seems the clear heir to Balanchine. He’s stuck with the story-free leotard ballet and continued to enhanced the skill levels of dancers. Second, why can’t most choreographers figure out how to make dance as exciting as this was? Christopher Wheeldon totally gets the “history” of ballet, but even though he wants to make it accessible to modern audiences, it seems like the second he gets the dancers on stage he goes all cerebral and forgets everything there is to know about modern culture. Wheeldon seems only to reference the ballet vocabulary, but Forsythe makes exciting movement that doesn’t need ten years of watching people dance in order to appreciate it. Or …. well, who knows, maybe I’ve been watching dance too long and I can’t tell anymore. But still, I find few people that seem to hit the sweet spot like Forsythe does. And he lets dancers be sexy. Yay for that.

    The third piece, “The Vertiginous Thrill of Exactitude,” is the one that’s getting all of the publicity shots. It was actually quite fun – three women in chartreuse tutus (Elena Androsova, Olesya Nobikova, and Evgenya Shklyarov) being terribly gamine and fairly classical as they danced with two men to Schubert’s Sympony #9 in C Major. However, the men were generally doing better in this piece than the women were – though I loved the happiness the girls were projecting (for once not looking like the sharks who’d fought their way up since kindergarten and just like young women doing what they loved), they seemed to be a bit … loose. They weren’t quite matching up with each other, they just didn’t seem to have the preciseness the dance required. I wondered if maybe they hadn’t rehearsed it for a few days or if maybe they were stiff from the plane ride over – at any rate, it didn’t seem to be as on as it should have been. (On the bus later, an elderly gentleman who really seemed to know his stuff opined that the entire female company was just trying too hard to be pretty instead of trying to do what the works required – a thought I feel had real merit.) Still, this piece really showed how pointe work isn’t some airy-fairy delicate thing for the ladies – it’s an activity that requires strength, dedication, and (I suspect) a high degree of pain tolerance. And even though this wasn’t done as well as it should have been, I still enjoyed myself. I mean, really, I was just having a great evening, and the joy of the dancers was infectious. And who was that charming woman with the black hair? (These were all corps girls so I can’t tell from the program.) She seemed terribly young but I feel like she’s got a great career ahead of her and I’d like to keep tabs on her progress.

    Finally, the evening was coming to an end (running rather late due to the many bows the dancers were taking, and can someone please tell Russian people not to talk out loud when the show is going on if they’re not actually in Russia?), and we ready for “In the Middle, Somewhat Elevated,” which I’ve seen done three times by Pacific Northwest Ballet. It’s a great piece – an incredibly match of movement and music only really equalled in its force by Macgregor’s “Chroma” – and I love to see it performed. However, there was, once again, a certain sharpness missing to the movements of the women. The lovely black haired girl of the previous act seemed too delicate to be as hard as she needed, while the other dancers were frequently not giving their moves the … how do I say it … “plosiveness” they needed. When the kicks to the top of the body happen, you should about feel like you’ve just taken a thumping by a mule, and while the women were able to handle the element of flexibility, the razor edge was not there. This was, however, not true at all of Ekaterina Kondaurova, who powered her way through the whole piece as if it was the Olympics all over again and she was going for a gold. She flexed, she bent, she was a power to reckon with on pointe, she was on it. And Ksenia Dubrovina (if it was indeed her) cranked out her oldster power skills, fairly well spanking the younger women of the company. (Meanwhile the men were all pretty good in general – I apologize for not having too much to say but my notes were thin.)

    Overall, I think this was an excellent evening of dance, of the kind that rewards me for the many duds I have to put up with in my search for great ballet. Do check it out if you can, and, well, you might even want to see the Balanchine program, too – I know after last night I was thinking that twice in one week wasn’t nearly enough.

    (This review is for a performance that took place Monday, October 13th, 2008. The Mariinsky will repeat this program on Tuesday, October 14th, then do a Balanchine program the 15th and the 16th.)

    Wayne McGregor’s Random Dance Company – “Proprius” – Covent Garden Piazza

    September 13, 2008

    Today I had the good luck to be able to make it to the Royal Opera House just in time to see an outdoor performance of Wayne McGregor’s Random Dance Company’s new work, “Proprius.” I was, of course, there to see the various events of the Ignite Festival – but the luck came in because I didn’t think I was going to be able to make it at all. You see, I have someone visiting me from America this week, and this person doesn’t care for theater-type stuff, and this has meant that I, for all intents and purposes, have been living a life of Total Abstinence. Aaargh. In fact, we were supposed to spend the day at the Leighton House, because said house guest enjoys architecture, and I was going to have to abandon my dreams of spending my day surrounded my installation art and fresh new dance stuff. WAH!

    And yet … my friend came down with a cold, and she was too tired to go out, so suddenly we were able to do anything we wanted to and off we went to Covent Garden, for the arts festival I’ve been wanting to go to for well over six weeks. At the very moment we arrived, people were just getting arranged on stage for “Proprius.” I said, is this not kismet? I sat down on the cobblestones (see my point of view here) and got ready to watch the performance – not having read a single thing about it. Ah, well, it’s hardly the first time.

    The key element of Proprius is, obviously, the fact that it has a huge cast of London school kids in what seemed to be the 8-14 year range. The dance started with these young folk on stage, about ten of them, a real panoply of faces and body types. It looked to me not like they had been plucked from dance schools, but rather that they were completely unaccustomed to the vocabulary of modern dance. What I was watching was them interpreting a language I knew very well through their own, untuned bodies (and to some extent minds – I’m sure it was very new to them). Wayne’s movement style is very familiar to me – a way of doing trust falls, of lifting and carrying other dancers, of turning people using your heels, of balancing in a way that’s just not quite standard in modern dance – a way I find far more intimate and involved than most modern dance, and certainly ballet – that totally says, “This is something Wayne McGregor created.” It’s a language that is as clearly itself as Chinese or Japanese – I would never mistake it for Korean just because it was in a different context. And it’s difficult, and it’s, I think, not something people wrap their heads around easily – it doesn’t really have a basis in the “language of dance” that people outside of modern dance aficionados have in their heads (think of ballroom dancing or club dancing or even how people dance in musicals – it’s not modern dance at all).

    And yet, these kids got it. They lifted and carried, they leaned and moved, they bounced off of each other, they did their best to be the dancers they had been asked to be, and they carried it off. They weren’t just trained monkeys moving into position as asked (a problem for me with nearly any performance involving children is a certain robotic approach to what they’re doing, as if the independence had been stamped out of them); they looked at each other and thought and got into it and they danced. I was really absorbed by them and their difference from usual dancers; the youngest ones (especially the boys) were a bit gawky, the older girls were frequently of a more normal body type than dancer women are (which made them move differently, though their own inexperience seemed to be the real delimiter of movement style), and their faces communicated more than they may have wanted to. (I especially felt for one girl who got kicked in the face by someone else who couldn’t see where she was; she looked pretty unhappy, but big points to her for soldiering on.)

    I realized while I was watching them that they actually represented a lot more of what I think London is like than I ever see in dance troupes; profoundly multi-cultural, with a range of life experiences. They also danced like they really cared about doing it well. I got bizarrely excited about this, in part because I get frustrated about how overwhelmingly white (or perhaps culturally segregated) dance tends to be. I was reminded of the Ballet Black show that I had found so disappointing several months back. These kids showed enthusiasm and embraced the technique so well that I wondered if any of them harbored dreams of being dancers. Why couldn’t this be the school performance of the ROH’s ballet school? I wanted to watch their technique continue to develop!

    AHEM. Interspersed between the sets done by the groups of kids – there seemed to be about forty of them, and they were dancing in groups of ten to twelve – were sets done by the adult members of Random Dance. They were doing the usual McGregory moves – curling over each other, carrying each other, making me go gah! as they balanced on one foot then raised the other leg to be parallel to their bodies (with their feet next to their heads!), being tight and thoughtful and gorgeous and making me wish I always sat so close to the stage when watching dancers.

    I was fascinated by the difference between the adults and the children. Clearly there was a huge discrepancy in terms of professionalism, but in addition to the variation/benefit ten years of dance training will make, there was also the change that the aging had done in terms of development of muscles and bodies. These dancers could do more because they had more to do it with. In some ways, it was like listening to language spoken by skilled adults, complete with rhymes, puns, and literary allusions. (Alas, I took no notes and cannot discuss the dance in much more detail than this.)

    About two thirds of the way through the piece, a very different group of young dancers came on stage. I was pretty curious about what was going on – many of them were wearing glasses and they stood and carried themselves differently. I realized that, in his groups of kids, Wayne had added in a batch of developmentally disabled kids. “Wow,” I thought. I have never seen kids like this dance on stage. What was going to happen?

    Well, what happened is that these kids, who’d clearly been rehearsing along with the rest of the group, got out there and danced. The vocabulary was still the same, and their faces were far more communicative than even the other kids’ were, and they did show their frustration visibly at times (I think there may have been some confusion about what was supposed to be happening), but they still moved, and moved in ways that were clearly recognizable as a choreographed dance. It felt a bit like Wayne had done some things to make the movement such that it might be more clearly cued off of other dancers’ movement, so that they were helping each other figure out what to do next, and there wasn’t so much in the way of lifts and trust falls – but they weren’t being coached by someone standing on stage, they were doing it on their own. And I thought, wow, this is so cool. We really do have a group of dancers that really reflects the richness of London. I liked seeing that on stage. They weren’t being pandered to or talked down to, and we as the audience weren’t being talked down to, either. I felt like, this is our community, these kids are a part of our community, and we’re all sharing in this experience of what dance is and how it “sounds” different depending on who is speaking it but the words and the language structure are still the same. And I was really proud of Mr. McGregor for really going for it, and for making it successful, and for treating these kids with respect as performers just as much as he had the other group.

    The final bit was the adult dancers performing with the kids from earlier in the performance, and I loved it. The adults were really into it, seeming to be very enthused by working with the more inexperienced dancers – not at all bored or put upon, but rather wanting to very much see these girls (I think it was mostly girls for the last bit) look good and do their best and make a good showing. And the kids rose to the challenge. One girl, a black girl with curly golden braids, just sort of turned into a professional dancer in front of my eyes when she partnered with a gorgeous male Random Dance company member – she stood up straight, she looked completely serious, she moved great, SHE rose to be as good of a partner for him as he was for her. It reminded me of how, when I sing with someone who’s a great piano player, I suddenly find all of these notes and ornamentation coming out of my mouth that I didn’t know were going to be there It was fantastic and very energizing for me as an audience member.

    Overall, I found this a really uplifting performance and a real pleasure. McGregor didn’t compromise his choreography because he expected less of his dancers (I mean, technically clearly he didn’t try to get them to do moves they couldn’t, but the intelligence of his dance was in no way diluted), and I felt, as an audience member, really pleased by what I got to see.

    And after this there were so many cool things to see inside the opera house for the rest of the festival! (Alas, no time to review them today.) Ultimately my only regret was that I couldn’t see all of the installations and performances in the time remaining me (especially the “Chocolate Tasting: Interactive” event – just my kind of art). I do really hope Ignite becomes a regular event at the ROH and every year we celebrate the birth of the new season with a weekend of riotous, thought-provoking installations, events, and performances in the friendly confines of Covent Garden and the Royal Opera House.

    (This review is for the 2 PM performance that took place on Saturday, September 13th. Proprius will be performed again September 14th at 1 and 3 PM in Covent Garden in the corner in front of the Royal Opera House entrance. Admission is free.)

    Review- Matthew Bourne’s “Dorian Gray” – Sadler’s Wells

    September 4, 2008

    After months of anticipation, last night I finally got to see Matthew Bourne’s “Dorian Gray.” A conversation before the show went like this:

    “I’ve heard it wasn’t received well in Edinburgh.”
    “Really? Why?”
    “Well, they described it as ‘vacuous’.”
    “But it’s all about being vacuous! You’ll have a great time.”

    Well, as it turns out, I actually found my evening rather boring. The key problem was that Bourne failed to create any real emotional interaction between the dancers. Did Dorian and his photographer feel a really strong passion for each other? I couldn’t see it. The dancer Dorian picked up, when did they become boyfriends? Was his death a tragedy? Was I supposed to care? I just didn’t, really, not for any of them. I watched the movement and I thought about what was happening and tried to piece together a story (since I don’t know the original), but without that connection between people there wasn’t really enough happening on stage to make me care.

    In some ways, I feel this show highlights some of the weaknesses of Bourne as a choreographer, as his reliable helpers were stripped away and he was left to just what he could create from, well, nothing. He went out without the powerful music and proven story (i.e. Carmen) that have helped him make so many truly enjoyable works, and instead had to rely much more on his power as a creator. The music for this show was at times fun; I really enjoyed the live piano performance on the stage at one point and also the drumming. However, it was generally kind of bland, though at several points it was amplified to the point of pain – a very, very bad plan in an indoor DANCE venue. The story itself … well, I think it might be suitable for a dance performance, but for some reason, to me, it just seemed kind of … well, workshoppy, like he hadn’t quite filled in the holes yet to make it a good, continuous narrative. There were fun scenes, to be sure (such as the bit with the business cards being handed to Dorian – and might I add that when he later handed his own to the ballet dancer, I expected a Wayne Macgregor-like telling off, which made me giggle), and some of the dancing was … kinda fun (the man on man seduction scene early on had a fair amount of energy), but … when all was said and done, I got my real joy at the end, hearing Adam and the Ants’ “Prince Charming” being played over Sadler’s Wells’ excellent PA system. It’s short, at least, at two hours including interval, but in its current incarnation I would call this production – with the exception of the mirror covered, skull shaped disco ball in Act 2, which I crave – just not ready for prime time.

    (This review is for a performance that took place on Wednesday, September 3rd, 2008. I watched from the main floor, row K, which I highly recommend.)