Posts Tagged ‘Wayne McGregor’

Mini-review – Woolf Works – Royal Ballet

May 22, 2015

Every new ballet is a cause for celebration: even more so when it’s a full-length show. Many companies will only produce one every few years: but we’ve been lucky to get a regular feed of them here in London. This year the Royal Ballet has programmed a real treat: a full length ballet by Wayne McGregor inspired by the writing of Virginia Woolf. For McGregor, Woolf Works represents a first full-length ballet work – meaning that for the Royal Ballet this represents a real risk, most poignantly financially. For us readers – and, practically, for the Royal Ballet’s audience as literate Londoners – it represents an opportunity to see a well-loved artist’s legacy reflected through another person’s eyes (and other bodies). But this again is a risk. So I say they’ve programmed a treat, but oh the potential for disaster! But one thing I think everyone agreed on: the topic was worth the effort.

As presented, Woolf Works focuses on three of Woolf’s books: Mrs Dalloway (“I Now, I Then”), Orlando (“Becomings”), and The Waves (“Tuesday”). Deliciously, each section (and the whole production) is approached in McGregor’s usual collaborative, gesamtkunstwerk style, so the sets/settings and lights are richly evocative but also extremely modern. We start with Woolf herself speaking while an animated graphic of her words rains on a scrim … a beautiful effect to take us into a world in which bodies, movement, light and sound attempt to recreate the internal effects of reading Woolf.

“I Now, I Then” is the most realistic and, I think, mostly closely pinned to Woolf’s actual writing: nearly a straight narrative of people remembering their younger selves and dealing with their (less glamorous, less happy) current selves. It introduces us to Alessandra Ferri, as Mrs Dalloway, but also as a representation of Woolf herself – Ferri is no longer the fresh young thing and is thus able to more physically embody the regret of the character she plays. The emotions raised by this section were overwhelmingly of longing – sometimes for the past, sometimes for the attention of/affection of others – with shimmering moments of joyous memories rising like koi from a murky pond. This feeling of looking painfully on the past slides us perfectly to the final section, “Tuesday,” which, while seemingly about The Waves, is much more of an exploration of the mental landscape of a deeply depressed person – one who sees fit to throw herself beneath the waters we see constantly roaring above her. It ends the evening on a heartbreaking note.

In the middle, though, was my favorite section: “Becomings.” I looked forward to it for the chance to see my three favorite dancers – McRae, Watson, and Osipova – on stage together, but also had the joy of McGregor’s oft-used pairing of Lamb and Underwood (why does Underwood never get such excellent choreography in other dances?). We started with dancers emerging from the shadows in stylized Elizabethan court dress – lots of ruffs and gold lamé – but with the gendered versions of the costumes not staying fixed. Eventually, as the lights from the side began to appear shining down in bars, I felt that we were moving forward in time, with somehow a core personality for each performer staying put while the physical manifestation of their existence morphed and wobbled. Then, in the end, as tiny LEDS lit up the arches of the layers of the seating at the Royal Opera House, it felt like we had got to a point where we were beyond gender. Then it was one step further forward so that we simply existing as glittering points of consciousness – and the lights went out. I had been smashed in my chair by the forces of acceleration and then was suddenly floating in space. We had just gone on an adventure beyond the ultraworld. I can hardly imagine a better adaptation – we, the dancers, and Woolf had all been transformed. I can only hope that somehow I can have a chance to see this again before it ends.

(This review is for a performance that took place on Wednesday, May 20, 2015. It continues through Tuesday, May 26th.)

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Review – Metamorphosis Titian 2012 – Royal Ballet at the Royal Opera House

July 19, 2012

There will be lots of critical words spilled over Monica Mason’s final event at the Royal Opera House, so I’ll save repeating what everyone else will say (oh, a robot! etc.) and stick with my own views. Consider this an editorial, if you will, rather than a proper review. I’m going to build this as a sort of pre-retrospective, judging the show based, not on how innovative it was, but how likely I think it is to stand the test of time.

Act 1, Machina, a.k.a. “the one with the robot.” Unsurprisingly, this was by Wayne McGregor, who for some reason was sharing the reins with Kim Brandstrup and making him try to do choreography around a giant (15 foot tall?) robot with six planes of motion. Coolness: the early scenes with the scrim behind them and a baleful light poking through, with the ambiance of people dying on a dry plain – the kind of place I imagine mythology happening. Bit I hope to see again: pure hunter Carlos Acosta’s duet with lean-like-a-stag Edward Watson. It was totally McGregor and, while that style of angles does not suit Acosta, his muscular style made this moment electric. Also good: Tamara Rojo sliding across Ed’s body in another duet sequence. I vote this is revived in a special place of too hot to handle stage moments that I can treasure in private.

Act 2, Trespass, a.k.a. “the one with the mirror.” The opening scene of the male dancers posing and dancing in a circle was the most homoerotic thing I’d seen since “Canto Vital” at the Carlos and Friends show back in 2009 – a veritable Kirk/Spock slashfest on the stage of the Royal Opera House. Wahoo! I loved the costumes – the men’s had circuit board patterns on the chests and a stripe of color across the upper thighs, making them look rather like naked robots, while the women’s seemed to be patterns of eyes – except for the woman playing Diana (Melissa Hamilton?), who got to look like she was naked. While there was some interesting stuff going on here in terms of people being able to glimpse each other through the mirror (when it was lit a certain way) and the anger of the violated goddess, it didn’t feel like something we were really ever going to see again. Pity, though, as the costuming was great.

Finally we have “the one with the singing,” Diana and Actaeon, also known as “the one with the really busy set.” After so much post modern grey and silver, it was wonderful to have something that was riotously colorful in a Marc Chagall kind of way, with bonus “people in dog costumes” (who carried their heads instead of wearing them, which allowed them to dance much better). While I generally loved what people were wearing in this section, I have to bitch about Chris Ofili’s bizarre choice to put Diana (Marianela Nunez) in orange. HELLO GODDESS OF THE MOON not the sun ORANGE IS NOT RIGHT.

A lot of this ballet was Nunez trying to push Actaeon (Bonelli) away, which I found quite mystifying – how did a hunter EVER get his hands on a goddess? How could there even be a hint of her responding erotically to him? I also found the “hands over boobs and crotch” gestures over used. Fun: the dogs, the other hunting group, Actaeon’s costume turning bloody via costume magic when he’s attacked by the dogs.

So when I re-do this ballet as a one act, it’s going to have the good solos from Machina, the costumes from Trespass, and a mixture of the men’s scenes from Trespass, with the Diana of Actaeon … dressed in blue. Plus the dogs and the male/female hunters, because they rocked. But seriously: while I loved the scope and inventiveness of this evening, I don’t feel that any of this will ever be revived (other than out of pig-headedness) and will certainly never make it into the repertoire of any other company. Except, maybe, for Wayne’s bit, because, while he is a bit of a nerd for the technology, he can sure get dancers to look beautiful on stage, and not just because they’re wearing revealing costumes.

(This review is for a performance that took place on Monday, July 16th, 2012. Its final night is tonight.)

Review – Polyphonia, Sweet Violets, Carbon Life – Royal Ballet at Royal Opera House

April 13, 2012

I am a big fan of triple bills, and a big supporter of new ballets, so a chance to see not one, but two new works at the Royal Ballet was not to be turned down. The first piece was by Liam Scarlet, whose choreographic development I’ve been tracking with enthusiasm for the last few years; it had a real advance buzz as a “murder mystery ballet” (what fun!). The second was by Wayne McGregor, whom I admit I’ve been feeling rather cool toward since he blew me off in high diva fashion some years back; advance buzz on his was, er, abstract something, with bonus awesome costumes. And then, well, there was a work by Christopher Wheeldon, whom I’ve got mixed feeling about – I’ve seen many of his works of which there was one hit and many misses; his advance buzz was, however, most positive.

Wheeldon was up first with Polyphonia, set to the initially grating sounds of Ligeti driving couples doing angular, unconnected motions … but the music smoothed out and the partnering became more intimate. My favorite moment was when lovely Sarah Lamb was bent back over her partner’s body and slid underneath his bent knee – I briefly felt fat and inflexible but enjoyed the motion and shape nonetheless.

Next up was Sweet Violet. I’d been told the ballet was hard to get without reading the program notes, but to be honest, even with reading them, I had no idea what was going on. There’s a scene of a murder, a scene of a painter and his model (and some cops or something), a scene at a dance hall, maybe some other scenes, a man all dressed in black, one with a letter … I’m sorry, I lost track. I could not get the narrative to cohere together into anything like what was described in the program, although there were some great moments of spectacle (I loved the bit done with the backstage view of a stage, complete with people in a box watching us – what fun!). I’m not sure how the dance was … my brain was working to hard to try to get things to make sense to actually engage with the movement. And the various female characters were all a blur. It was fun to watch and I enjoyed the music but overall it was a bit too much of a mess to be good.

We ended with Carbon Life, which I wasn’t actually the least bit excited about given what a steaming pile of poo Live Fire Exercise was and McGregor’s general downward arc over the years. I thought about it during the show, about what had changed in my perception of his work. When I first saw Chroma, I thought, my God, a whole new language for ballet! But now I think, my God, the exact same moves I saw before. It’s a language, but one that seems dedicated to finding 64 ways of saying “snow.”

In the end, though, this was my favorite part of the evening. McGregor is big on collaborating and this time he had some amazing musicians doing great pop songs (did he pick them? because they were cool) live at the back of the stage while the dancers performed in some wild costumes in front. The preview I’d read in Time Out said the dancers basically put ON the costumes over the course of the evening, which was about right; they started practically naked (in black hip-hugger shorts, the women in flesh colored shirts, the men topless and yummy) then came on with the strange clothes, kind of fooling around in them, as it were – with spikey tutu skirts designed to inhibit partnering and stiff, pointy glove things that immobilized arms rather than emphasizing their movement – the costumes were a bit of show in themselves. Ultimately it all came off as a sort of fun dance party. Choreography? I don’t remember any of it. But a good time was had by all. I can only hope it gets remounted in the Floral Hall next time so we can all dance along.

(This review is for a performance that took lace on Thursday, April 12th, 2012. It continues through April 23rd.)

Review – Merce Cunningham dance company final London visit (Pond Way, Second Hand, Antic Meet, Roaratorio, RainForest, BIPED) – Barbican Center

October 12, 2011

Summer, love, happened so fast … Summer love, thought it would last ….

It all started in 1996, when I saw Beach Birds at Seattle’s Meany Hall. I was amazed by the beautiful movement on stage, so much so that I’ve tried to catch his dance company whenever they were in town (and finances allowed). I loved so much being able to see works by someone who’d been a genius for so long they were just going wherever their muse took them, and doing it beautifully. It was unquestionably the strongest feeling I’ve ever had of “being in the presence of a master” in all of the dance I’ve ever seen (though at the time I was still new to modern dance). I felt lucky to have joined him so late but to still be able to go along for part of the glorious, glorious ride.

But Merce was already old when I saw this piece performed, and I knew our affair could not last. Sadly, he broke it off in 2009, leaving me a tiny bit heartbroken but knowing we’d both given it our all. Expecting it to be the last goodbye, I made it to see “Nearly Ninety” in October 2010 and left feeling like I’d just gotten a hand scribbled note (folded somewhat elaborately) – it seemed tossed off for fun and not really thought out. And it left me cold. Merce, Merce, was this really it?

Thankfully his company decided to do a proper farewell tour, which gave me an opportunity to end it all on a high note. I dithered for months over whether or not I was going to have to go to New York to get my last fix, but a London program was announced at last, and it was an embarrassment of riches: six dances, only one of which I had seen before. I had booked a flight to Venice for the first night, but convinced myself that rather than see the Bienale, what I really wanted was one last romantic weekend with the man I loved before it was really and truly over; a chance for us to laugh and surprise each other and really revel in how good it was between us. And, well, it was all just a bit expensive, but I consoled myself by remembering how much a Venice hotel room for one was going to run and convinced myself that by staying for Merce I was really saving money in the end.

The first program opened with “Pond Way” (1998), a glorious gesamtkunstwerk with a Lichtenstein backdrop that for me evoked sand dunes; the dancers dressed in flowing white tops and harem pants; and the most fantastic Brian Eno music accompanied it all. For me, the whole thing felt like watching images appear through a mirage, solidify, then fade away. I saw Bedouins, camels, palm trees, belly dancers, cranes – the mental miasma of a million Attenborough specials rising through my subconscious to provide meaning to the forms in front of me. And, of course, the music was a dream for an Eno fan like me. The whole thing was fabulous.

Next up was “Second Hand” (1970), which had the dancers costumed in colorful, crayon-like shirts (kind of American-apparel-esque). There seemed to be a central conflict between an older dancer, who to me looked like a Merce Cunningham stand in, who kept trying to get the attention of one of the young women of the dance troop. In my mind, the piece became “Captain Kirk Can’t Get a Date” and I wasn’t able to take it seriously. (The wide collars and deep neckline of the men’s shirts just made it too ’70s comical for me.)

Our final piece of opening night was “Antic Meet” (1958), which was actually MEANT to be funny. It had a very uncompromising John Cage score of fists on piano and other strange noises that brought to mind the Trockadero’s “Patterns in Space” with its very, very serious musicians popping bubble wrap. Only, instead of being grim, we had jolly dancers on stage: one carrying a chair strapped to his back, another appearing and disappearing behind doors, a third fighting for a very long time with a sweater that had four arms and no obvious place for a head. So while the whole thing would have been incredibly depressing if it had been done with no self-awareness, instead Merce for me showed a whole ‘nother side of his personality: that he could let himself be funny and that sometimes all of this freaky modern dancing is, really, just comic. I’d never seen a modern dance show where people were just able to laugh; and, I think for most of the people in the audience, it was an entirely new feeling and one that was a great relief – so many things that they’d wanted to laugh about for ages and finally they were given license to go! And, all things considered, the score was great. Really, it was an awesome evening, and it alone would have satisfied me as the end to my big love affair with Merce.

That said, the tension was high as the end drew nearer, and I’m afraid I may have had one cider too many (that is, one) before going to “Roaratorio.” I loved Cage’s score for this piece, a mix of himself reading Finnegan’s Wake (which I took to be Ulysses as I sat there, programless – Joyce’s voice is very identifiable even though I haven’t finished even one of his books), sound recording which seemed to illustrate the text, and bits of traditional Irish music all jumbled up in a very Cage way. The whole thing was completely appreciable as a concert event. That said, the action on stage – typical abstract Merce movement but with more smiling than usual and rather a lot of traditional Irish dancing leavened in (like butter in a biscuit) – didn’t do anything for me. In fact, I was having a bit of a hard time not nodding off, and my brain did actually go into full free-association mode (perhaps not inappropriately given the source material). Watching the dancers change clothes and move the chairs on stage around wasn’t providing me with enough to hang my brain on. It was only sixty minutes, but this felt like the night at the bar where I sat telling Merce’s best friend how much I was going to miss him while not getting a whole lot of sympathy.

I had some time away after this, a whole day to sit and think about the good times. And then we had our very last date together ever, for RainForest (1968) and Biped (1999). RainForest just killed me: with Andy Warhol’s forty or so big, silver, mylar pillow-shaped balloons (the “set”) barely keeping contact with the ground (and floating off into the audience AND the orchestra pit, forcing the conducter to THWAP them back out), the whole thing became a giant, Pop-art comedy dance, complete with an exploded set piece (something I’d really never seen before, a sad crumpled bit of mylar sitting on the stage like a gazelle on the Serengeti plains). The dance seemed just as much designed to act as if the pillows weren’t there as to acknowledge them by forcefully kicking them away as the performers attempted to do “the moevement” in the exact planes designated. It seemed as much an exercise in the intersection of movement and art as it was a dance, and I had to imagine Andy Warhol being very satisfied with the effect. For me, it was like me and Merce doing one of those young lovers on the beach montages, as we ran around kicking sand, splashing around, and giggling like kids, all light and laughs and joy and lots of salty, ionized air amping up the energy.

Then it was the end, with BIPED, a piece I’d seen three years ago nearly to the day. It was like being taken back to a restaurant we’d discovered together, but in a different season, so the menu had changed a bit but it was all still so tasty and flavored with the memories of us together. I remember struggling with the animations before, but (especially seen right after a matinee of Wayne McGregor’s Limen) I had new appreciation for the overall use of light, as dancers appeared and disappeared at the back of the stage, as the floor changed colors beneath them, as they seemed to dance with the animated projections of their own bodies. I could see that these drawings were quite perfectly drawn from their own bodies doing the moves that Merce had created, and I thought, look, he has gone, and I will never see these dances again, but he lived long enough to come into technologies that could really and truly help preserve his legacy, as well as living long enough to discover a million more ways he could use these advances to just push the dance forward as an artist. We held hands tightly as the dancers, teary eyed, took one bow after another to a room full of people who knew they’d never see them dancing together again. But Merce and I had always known it would have to come to an end; thankfully, we had one last weekend to make sure the last of our time together would leave memories for (and of) a lifetime.

(This reminiscence is for a series of performances that took place from October 5 through 8th, 2011. If you are feeling particularly desolate, they are continuing to tour until the end of the year and will be in Paris in the middle of December.)

Review – Triple Bill (Limen, Marguerite and Armand, Requiem) – Royal Ballet at Royal Opera House

October 9, 2011

It’s been two years since I first saw Limen, and the newness of it has worn off well enough for me to appreciate it more structurally. Saturday afternoon I was amazed by the lighting much more – the opening, with the animated, digital clock-font glowing numbers floating around on a scrim while dancers stepped into the numbers and then disappeared into the darkness just a foot or two away from the screen … the very cool white box of light that had the dancers in a negative space in the middle … the colored lights that at one point made a box border that matched the dancers’ shirts (crayon primaries) and then later sliced straight across the stage (in a recreation of the Mount Olympus scene from Xanadu – am I the only one who saw that?) … then the final scene with the great blackness at the back of the stage with little blue lights flickering around it that the dancers all eventually went to stand in front of, completely disappearing in the gloom. It all seemed a metaphor for how we have such brief moments of life and then it’s snuffed out. And yet … the one thing in this ballet that just really kills me is the Yin Yang duet Sarah Lamb and Eric Underwood perform just past the halfway point. He is pure power, she is tiny and (seemingly) fragile, and he moves her with the grace and strength that I think is one of the mind blowing things about sex, that two humans who could be destroying each other instead are so careful and vulnerable together. It’s a pas de deux that makes you hold your breath and I feel lucky I was able to see it again with the originators of the roles.

No such luck with Marguerite and Armand, but given that Fonteyn and Nureyev were performing it until the late 70s, I almost could have (if I’d been living in England thirty years ago). But it was wonderful to have it be my debut as an audience member, with Rojo and Polunin instead, letting me revel in thirty minutes of unfiltered Ashtonian sap. Now, I am not a fan of Traviata (based on the same story, Dumas’ La Dame aux Camelias), as I don’t care for heroes or heroines who are willing to let social norms dictate their actions. Yet somehow as a ballet, with so much of the irritating moral conflicts stripped away, the story moved on to a higher plan of abstracted feelings; love, longing, betrayal, duty, rejection, regret. Ashton wrote the emotions and relationships wonderfully through movement; Marguerite’s weakness captured by Armand lifting her using his legs; her heart and body broken as she shuffles offstage in toe-dragging pointe. I still wanted to hit Armand at the end for not being able to forgive Marguerite (for what I am still not sure; something about a necklace) in time to be able to enjoy what little of her life there was going to be for them to spend together; why must people dwell on the faults of those they love while they live only to suffer so much regret when they die – when a little less rigidity could have led to such a different outcome? Ah well, midway into my forties I see Armand’s pigheaddishness is just as contemporary as ever. Women may not be dying of consumption like they used to but oh, it was just a lovely little thing, this ballet was.

This brought us to the third ballet of the afternoon, Macmillan’s Requiem, something I’ve been interested in seeing because of its place in his ouvre both as a critical one-act and as a historical moment as a choreographer’s tribute to his mentor. What does a ballet constructed of pure grief look like? At the start, as the white-clad dancers paraded, hunched over, on stage, it looked a whole lot like Ashton’s Rite of Spring; there was even a body being carried aloft by the crowd. But then, as we listened to the just beautiful choral work (Fauré’s “Requiem”), I realized … we were watching pretty little angels being carried around on stage! The message was, “Don’t be sad! They’ve moved on to a better place and we’ll get to see them again.” Maybe that’s what the dancers of the Stuttgart ballet needed to hear but I found it just as candy-coated as the ribbon dance in La Fille mal Gardee. Grr. More grief! Ah well, it wasn’t badly danced, the music was very good, but my heart was not touched.

(This review is for the matinee performance of Saturday, October 8th, 2011. This triple bill continues through October 20th and like all of the Royal Ballet’s triple bills is a spectacular bargain. I highly encourage you to attend.)

Mini-review – FAR – Wayne McGregor’s Random Dance at Sadler’s Wells

November 18, 2010

I have a complicated relationship with Wayne McGregor, but I won’t document it here: these days, what matters is my friend Wechsler likes him, and I like going out to dance shows with him, so we were absolutely going to see FAR, his latest show currently on (and sold out) at Sadler’s Wells. After my dismal failure to get “Entity,” I forked over for a program, and was given these ideas to muse upon: FAR is short for “Flesh in the Age of Reason,” the title of an Enlightenment era book exploring the relationship of the body to the soul.

This was a thought that sparked my brain off, and, as the curtains came up, I was greeted by four dancers bearing torches with a couple between them, dancing to music by Vivaldi (I think). I imagined the formal music capturing the highly structured society of that era, which the dancers’ bodies represented; controlled bodies, and controlled minds. Only … that control cannot continue, for the mind and the body do not always accept the control put on them. Thus the torchees fading into darkness, thus the dancers disappearing … bringing us into a strange world, perhaps today, marked by a brilliant burst of white flickering lights from the illuminated sculptural entity at the back of the stage.

At this point … well … what am I supposed to say about the dancing that is not just a blow by blow? I’ve changed how I’m spending my time at dance performances now because I spent too much time thinking about what I would say when I was watching the dance (and taking notes) and not enough time watching and experiencing it; this composing and writing was causing me to be unable to get fully into what was going on. There was the same gawky movements as I’ve seen before with McGregor, but now, when I saw them, my mind obsessed on a note in the program in which he talks about “the distorted body,” wondering if when I saw a position that looked unnatural, if I was assuming the dancer was hurt or expressing mental trauma. So I focused on these movements, occasionally flipping to thoughts like “they all look like they’re wearing American Apparel” to “is that reallly supposed to be rape or is that just how I’m reading it” to “I wonder if that big light box causes epileptic fits.” I also yawned a lot and just had a very hard time focusing on what was happening (not helped by having a rather big head in front of me – oh the curse of getting side seats due to faffing about buying tickets). At the end, finally, we had a clear death on the stage, and the light board seemed to be showing the last shimmer of neural synapses as a human’s light goes out – the brain continues to fire for a while – but then less and less – and then the light goes well and truly out.

My overall impression is that the piece seemed to show a lot about how we fight against our exterior programming, and that its our bodies’ desires that overtake the attempts at hardwiring and control that are externally imposed on us. I also thought the group scenes flowed much better than a lot of things McGregor has done in the last two years (i.e. the very yawny “Dyad 1909“) and there was certainly less grotesquerie just for the sake; but I wasn’t really able to grab a narrative. Still, it was a beautifully realized piece in terms of the other production elements, and while I’m not sold on the dancing, I did think it was worth seeing a second time to reflect upon it when my own mind wasn’t fighting so hard at being where it was. And I thought briefly, at the end, maybe I was right when I thought that McGregor was the most likey inheritor of Merce Cunningham’s crown; he’s certainly trying to make something that is so much richer than just a bit of pretty people doing pretty movement in pretty dresses – though I think I might not have minded just a bit more pretty on this evening.

And before I close, Ismene Brown reminds me: once again, Sadler’s Wells has produced a work that literally hurt my ears. This is one of two main complaints I have as an audience member about the venue. They must have a better concern for their audience than to abuse us with overly amplified noise. My other fuss is that they leave the front doors open so that the smoke from in front is blown all the way in as far as the bar; it’s just intolerable and they should institute a complete smoking ban along the entire Rosebury side entrance OR keep the doors shut. But it’s the noise that really bothers me; I should not have to bring earplugs with me when I go to see dance.
(This review is for a world premiere performance that took place on Wednesday, November 17th, 2010. FAR continues through November 20th, and if you wish to see it, please don’t despair at its sold-outtedness – daily tickets are often announced on the Sadlers’ Wells twitter feed, and you can pretty much guarantee there will be just a few returned every single night before the show that won’t make it onto the website. Be persistent!)

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.)

  • 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.)

    Preview of Wayne McGregor’s “Ignite” program at the Royal Opera House

    August 20, 2008

    Well, after the initial “nothing happening” of the Ignite website, some content has finally been added (not that they bothered to email me about it … I guess I signed up on the list just for the sake of killing a few minutes online). It appears that Random Dance will be doing an outdoor piece at Covent Garden. I’m excited about this because I love it when dance integrates itself with a space – so often it’s done in the sterile confines of a concert hall, but when done outside, it can actually do things to make a space come alive. I’ll never forget the piece I saw danced at Arizona State University’s Nelson Fine Arts center – it’s a wonderfully designed building and the dancers made me really appreciate how special it was.

    Who knows if I’ll come away from this event with a sudden appreciation of the genius of Covent Garden, but one can hope. According to another guy’s blog (can’t figure out his name from the one page), there’s going to be some cool installation pieces up, too, including a “playable light sculpture” by Sophie Clements (never heard of her before, but, well, that doesn’t mean much). I have to figure out how to coordinate a visit to this event with the visit of a friend of mine from the States (occuring over that same weekend), but my fingers are crossed that somehow the list of events will entice her into going. That said … sometimes my artistic tastes have little in common with those of “normal” people and I just have to accept the fact that I may have to go alone. I do sincerely hope that in this case I don’t wind up not getting to go at all because I’m needing to play hostess.

    (The Ignite festival takes place September 12, 13, and 14th, 2008.)

    PS: The website refers to “Wayne McGregor, one of the dance world’s most iconic figures” – now, that’s going to make his head fat. I mean, is he up there with Balanchine and Merce Cunningham and Jiri Kylián? I don’t think so.

    Review – New Works in the Linbury (spring 2008) – Royal Ballet

    May 22, 2008

    Lured by the promise of seeing a Wayne McGregor piece I hadn’t yet had the fortune to see, I headed down to the Royal Opera House today to check out “New Works in the Linbury.” (Here’s the description of the show: “Monica Mason is delighted that The Royal Ballet are back in the Linbury Studio Theatre presenting a series of world premieres by choreographers from within the Company. Plus, there is an opportunity to see Wayne McGregor’s new short work Nimbus, which was specially commissioned for the World Stage Gala last November.”)

    Well, the night is over and I’m not sure when the chance was to see Nimbus. Was it in the lobby before the show started? Was it a special “extra features” at the end of the night, after the dancers had all taken their bows as if it really was all over? Was he really laboring in such obscurity that it was no longer possible to see his stuff on stage? I really have no idea. Thankfully it meant there was also no chance of an unfortunate encounter with Mr. McGregor, in which I would be tearfully ashamed of liking his work so much and yet being no longer capable of speaking to him, but then, surrounded by what I can only assume were British ballet folk, I suddenly felt, well, I really was just a nobody anyway – none of these people were ever going to speak to me of their own will other than to tell me to please let them pass by or kindly stop whispering during the performance. What a change from the software testing conference I went two three weeks ago, when the giants in the field were all most open to speaking about their work and how it might relate to what you personally are experiencing, in a helpful, problem-solving way.

    The list of works were as follows: “What If,” choreography Ernst Meisner, danced by Romany Pajdak and Sergei Polunin; “b,” choreography Viacheslav Samodurov, danced by Sarah Lamb and Ivan Putrov; “Of Mozart,” choreography Liam Scarlett, dancers a cast of hundreds (or rather eight); “Agitator,” choreography Matjash Mrozewski, danced by Isabel McMeekan and Thomas Whitehead; “Monument,” choreography Vanessa Fenton, also many dancers; “Stop Me When I’m Stuck,” choreography Jonathan Watkins, danced by Yuhui Choe, Lauren Cuthbertson …. and some more dancers, but I’m trying to avoid carpal tunnel here.

    The opening number, as it turns out, was my favorite of the night. “What If” was just … what do they say, luminous? The two dancers were fun, young, athletic, and made me fall in love with them. They were young colts frolicking on stage, and though Romany seemed to not quite smoothly get two of her turns, I couldn’t help but get excited about a future of watching the two of them dance together.

    Liam Scarlett’s “Of Mozart,” with a musical choice that couldn’t help but make me think of Mozart’s Journey to Prague, seemed straight out of the school of modern choreography that plays it straight, with lovely, classic costumes (long, toned skirts for the women; shorts and long sleeved, tight-fitting tops for the men); old music; and a dance vocabulary that’s very familiar but throws in occasional bits that show its modernity (feet held at a 90 degree angle; supporting dancers by holding the back of the neck). It even had little bubbly “personality” bits that made me think of Jerome Robbins; most notable was the hand movements (clenching; rotating; opening and closing) during a pizzicato movement. Liam really seems to get what I think modern ballet audiences want, and I expect he’s going to have a pretty successful career as he gets more fully into his stride.

    Sadly, I don’t think what he’s producing is what ballet needs. How are we going to get new audiences? Are we going to stick to what’s safe until there are no more people under 65 watching ballet? I started thinking about “Chroma” and how awesome it was and how the choreography was just so blistering fresh at some point in the middle of “Of Mozart” and just couldn’t get my concentration back. The performance I was watching was fine, but it wasn’t pushing myself or the art just one little bit. I felt sad about this and kind of relieved that it was time for intermission.

    After intermission the evening restarted with “Agitator.” This also wasn’t a genre-breaking piece, but … my god, could Isabel McMeekan dance. I could not get my eyes of her fantastic legs and her fluid movement from one position to another. (I felt a bit badly for Thomas Whitehead as he didn’t have nearly the opportunity to show off she did.) I felt like it was on the verge of breaking into that really exciting partnering work that Forsythe does, but no luck. That said – it was still pretty damned yummy. I’ll be watching for her in the future.

    My last review is for my least favorite piece of the night – “Monument,” which is apparently by a choreographer that was quite popular with the audience. It all started off quite well, with fantastic electronica (“Pathogenic Agent”) by Jens Massel, aka Senking. The full-body, black with orange neon and glittery lines bodysuits were all a little to amusingly Cyberdogs for my taste, but we had black toe shoes to deal with and I was just kind of riding with it, watching the dancers contort themselves, the women’s feet arching in their shoes, the men throwing them over their shoulders, the music sounding really fantastic on the Linbury sound system.

    And then it all went south. Maybe I had show fatigue; maybe … it was bad. Suddenly we transitioned into the second movement of Bach’s Violin Concerto in E, and we were staring at a couple on stage. The woman was stiff, her feet as flat as they can get, her eyes staring straight at the sky – and if we weren’t clear that she was dead, the man waved his arms over his head in this Z motion straight out of a Greek play (and, I think, Martha Graham). Good God! Why the obviousness? What happened to what we were watching before? Then it was grief, grieving, oh, the sadness, the other dancers joining in the sadness … and at the very moment I was thinking about what I’d just seen and how cliched it was and how with any luck I’d never see someone making this Z motion with their hands again … all of the dancers were doing it at the same time! AAAAUGH!

    I’m afraid at this point I snapped the tether, and then I was looking at things like the bottoms of the pointe shoes (were they black, too?) and the violinist (Tatiana Bysheva, really making a career in classical music look sexy). Eventually it was over, and we got to watch “Stop Me When I’m Stuck,” which I was now too tired to really enjoy but J said reminded him of a dream ballet (it was his favorite bit of the night). There were occasionally some pretty great solos but I had my fill for the evening, and without Wayne, I felt like the evening had a few too many empty calories in it as a whole (despite being filled with utterly gorgeous dancers).

    (This review was for a performance on Thursday, May 22, 2008. Reviews of the other pieces may come later.)