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  1. Yes, there is certainly something about the ROH that adds to the magic that happens within. It's akin to the feeling you get with any place devoted to and steeped in ritual and history - what goes on inside makes it special, and what makes it special is what goes on inside. The Coliseum is a pretty venerable old institution, but it doesn't impart that same feeling. What I do like about it is how close to the stage it seems towards the front of, say, the upper circle (which is where we were) compared to the ROH; and it's certainly in much better decorative condition than, say, the tatty Bristol Hippodrome which is where we saw the ENB's Swan Lake. I completely agree about the stage calls at the end - I was just getting into my stride clapping when the house lights went up, and I did feel slightly short-changed as a result. Yes, a good point - stages don't get much bigger than the Coliseum! There is so much I like about Manon that I'm more than happy to follow in your footsteps and see the production over and over again until I'm also completely, rather than mostly, won over! 🙂
  2. We’ve been blessed with many of the ‘great’ narrative ballets over the last year; Giselle, Swan Lake, Mayerling, La Bayadere - and now Manon from the ENB. Manon holds a special place in my heart as it reliably tugs at those heartstrings and reduces me to tears by the final curtain. Its emotional impact arises not only from the music (from the first notes of the overture, you just know it will all end in tears!) but also from the story being completely grounded in harsh, venal reality. Yes, it shares with those other great narrative ballets the universal themes of sex/love and death, but its protagonists are ordinary people (there’s not a prince, king, queen or even dowager empress in sight!) and there are no supernatural forces central to either plot development or resolution (no wizards with shape-shifting spells, nor ethereal spirits more interested in tormenting the living than enjoying the afterlife). We saw the opening and closing performances at the Coliseum (with Cojocaru and Caley in the leads, supported by Cirio as Lescaut and Streeter as GM) and while I thoroughly enjoyed both performances, in neither case was I moved to tears. I don’t think I’ve been particularly grumpy recently, so I’ve been trying to figure out why… I don’t think it was the orchestra or the audience. Gavin Sutherland’s conducting was beautifully paced and nuanced, and the orchestra wove its usual magic with the music. And on both occasions the Coliseum was effectively sold-out, with the audiences noisily enthusiastic in their clapping, shouting and whistling! So was it the dancing? I think this played a small part, though other than one poor throw (on Sunday in the sequence following Alina’s solo at the start of Act 2) the technical standard, by itself, was excellent. The bedroom scenes stood out in terms of their fluid, technical prowess; the sequence where Manon is turned over and over by Lescaut and GM (with one leg staying still, and the other following on behind the rest of her rotating body) was a ‘wow’ moment - a choreographic optical illusion! Caley was solid as Des Grieux - a buttress onto which Manon threw herself over and over again in the final PDD before collapsing, as lifeless as a rag doll, in his arms. As impressive as all this was, a few things felt a bit flat. Manon’s solo in Act 2, in which she revels in the intoxication of her newly-found sensuality and seductive powers, didn’t appear as potent - or as contrasting between her approach to Des Grieux and GM - as I’ve seen elsewhere. The small gestures that embellish that solo seemed less effective - was it lack of musicality in their delivery or sharpness of definition? It starts to overlap with the acting side of the performance, but Des Grieux’s yearning (much like that of Rudolf in Mayerling) is illustrated in his solos by stretches; Caley’s reaches seemed rather perfunctory. In terms of acting, I think Caley is also at a slight disadvantage in having, like Matthew Golding, such a ‘friendly’ face; he seemed to be smiling more than I’d expect, which rather diluted the intensity of his love and concern for, and commitment to, Manon. For her part, I also felt that Cojocaru seemed a bit too happy when she disembarked the ship at the start of Act 3; was she travelling in a better ‘class’ berth to the other prostitutes? Finally, was it the staging/production? Yes. I think this was the main problem. In terms of its narrative flow, Manon’s power is the power of a morality tale; here we have the pure, innocent (yet fallible, as all humans are) Manon making the wrong choice between the spiritual purity of the love offered by des Grieux and the temptation of material luxury by GM. The environment in which this allegory plays itself out is crucial, for the society in which Manon finds herself tempted and then condemned reflects, amplifies and makes manifest what is both the best and worst about the human condition. Yes, we have love, tenderness and concern on display (Des Grieux), but we also have greed, exploitation, inequality, violence, abuse, and suffering (just about everyone else!). In the ROH production, the corruption, decadence and decay of this degenerate society is reinforced by the squalor, the grime, the rat catcher, and the overpowering, gaudy hedonism of the brothel. The staging and the action support each other to powerful effect. The ENB production is, of course, a touring production and needs to be fairly compact and streamlined. But about the only part of the staging that conveyed this dissolute society was the ‘safety screen’ on show at the start - a white screen with a black, ornate Manon inscribed. The screen is discoloured with neglect and exposure to the elements, and the black writing is streaked and running down the screen from the effects of rain. Just about everything else about the production was too clean, too ordered, too sparse. The rat catcher had what looked like oblong bits of material hanging off his rack, rather than dead rats. The costumes were pastel shades, and generally spotless. The assorted harlots and actresses looked less like ladies of ill repute/easy virtue and more like a bunch of girls off to a school prom, attired in layers of pastel-coloured chiffon/tulle. The ship was a sleek, black silhouette - more Cutty Sark than prison ship. The bare set for the final scene was more in keeping with the desert of the original book rather than the swamp of the ballet (where the swamp itself is an excellent metaphor for decay). If this seems overly critical, it’s only because of the high esteem in which I hold Manon. And I don’t think my lack of emotional response was just me being a bit grumpy; I skimmed through the RB DVD the day after and found it more affecting.
  3. Last night was the end of the run at the Bristol Hippodrome, with Alina Cojocaru (the main reason we went!) and Jeffrey Cirio in the leads. I’d forgotten how ‘intimate’ the venue is - our position at the front (to one side) of the Grand Circle was only a few rows back from the edge of the orchestra pit. That proximity, plus Gavin Sutherland coaxing the ENB Phil’s volume control up to 11, produced some 'musical' decibel levels that matched those of Infra's 'noise' last week! I’d also forgotten this version starts with the transformation of the blue-dressed princess into a white-tutu’ed swan. That simple trick - carried out behind the huge, moth-like* wings of James Streeter’s Rothbart - helped set a magical tone for the rest of the evening. *(and 'moth-like' is fairly appropriate, as he did have a habit of charging around the stage in circles, flapping his wings) The only major role I’d seen Cirio play was Hilarion in AK’s Giselle; he played that ‘baddie’ so well I was a bit concerned how he would (even if he could!) play a ‘hero’. Well, my concerns were totally misplaced; his Siegfried was a suitably conflicted young prince, and his burgeoning love for Odette (and sense of loss when he ‘betrayed’ her) came across well. His dancing was also very impressive, though he did seem to be trying a bit too hard to impress during the Act 3 fireworks. Alina, as expected, was classy. There was a calm confidence about her that transferred itself into virtually all her movements and then out to the audience. She literally ‘flowed’ through Act 2 - there was seldom a sense that her movements (especially slow ones) were fighting against gravity, it was more that gravity had been banished from the stage. That wasn’t as evident in Act 3; here, as with Cirio, there were occasions where the sheer effort involved started to become evident - but there were also a few balances and lifts that simply thrilled in their precision and time held. Michael Coleman played Siegfried’s Tutor as he played the Pasha in Le Corsaire (and if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it) - fingers drumming on his rotund belly; a roving eye for the girls; short steps with body bobbing side-to-side. A bit of an eccentric figure of fun, and lots of fun to watch. And talking of fun to watch, we became totally distracted in Act 3 by the antics of the two bald-headed ‘creatures’ that were Rothbart’s attendants. As in the retired RB production, Rothbart sat next to the Queen and his attendants sat either side of them during the various themed dances. And what disgusting, ill-mannered creatures they were! The one on the left seemed to be suffering from scabies - constantly scratching just about every part of his anatomy, and at one point gnawing his knee and then flossing his teeth to get the bits out with a strand of his costume. He might have looked scary, but he was a coward at heart - every time the dancers stamped their feet in the mazurka he’d jerk a few inches into the air, and ended up trying to hide behind Rothbart’s cloak!. The one on the right spend much of the time trying to get physical with one of the ladies-in-waiting, and she had to keep fending off his roving hands with her fan. Part way through all of this my eagle-eyed partner (well, binocular-eyed) whispered ‘is the one on the right Kobborg?’ It wasn’t easy to tell as their skull-caps extended down across their eyes and noses, but the lower half of his face (especially the mouth) looked right! We were finally convinced when (still sat down next to the Queen) he surreptitiously blew a kiss across the stage to the opposite wings just before Siegfried and Odile made their entrance for the big PDD, and also when he swept one arm around as if to ‘present’ Alina when she took her applause during the PDD. Despite the staging being a bit ‘budget flat-pack’ compared to the opulent splendour of the RB production (an inevitable consequence of a touring production?), it was a thoroughly enjoyable evening (and that enjoyment was evident in the appreciation shown by the fairly packed house).
  4. Thursday evening was our second Unknown Soldier/Infra/Symphony in C. All three works were slightly better second time around, though Unknown Soldier still lagged a long, long way behind the other two. The deficiencies of The Unknown Soldier, catalogued in my original post, were still there - in fact, I was so distracted by them the first time around I missed some others! Firstly, though, the view. This time we sat in the balcony rather than the front of the amphi, and the half-raised scrim no longer interfered with seeing the dancers on stage, and the individual lights built into the top of movable, angled ceiling/screen were no longer visible, flashing away like a giant animated car indicator or runway lights at Heathrow. That’s not a positive, though, as it implies either the creative team didn’t check the view from the amphi, or they didn’t care; either is pretty damning, though I’d rather it was a simple oversight... In my previous post I mentioned how some of the music reminded me of other compositions/composers (Alice, Frankenstein, Leonard Bernstein). But, on stage, there was one major association I didn’t grasp until someone told me to look for it - and that was Anastasia. The grey walls/ceiling with ‘hidden’ doors; adopting the simple, monotone flowing dress in the third act; and, dance-wise, the distraught reaction of Florence when Ted goes off to war compared with Anna Anderson reliving her traumatic memories in Anastasia (OK, the dance options for representing ‘distraught’ are probably limited, but the parallels are nevertheless there). And this issue of parallels, associations and precedents in artistic endeavour has been nagging away at me since Thursday (and is one reason I haven’t posted until today). We need new works to stand on a similar-enough foundation that we can then appreciate creative 'added value', but where that transition is (and whether it’s present at all) is obviously open to debate and informed by personal experience. Inside the echo-chamber that is my head (where my opinions are constructed from my experiences, and my recollection of those experiences modified by my opinions) I’ve concluded there is little or nothing of merit within The Unknown Soldier and (as Darlex has said in relation to Infra) it is more a case of the Emperor's New Clothes. My list of parallels within this work is long enough to make me wonder about the distinction between paying ‘homage’ to and, for want of a better word, ‘borrowing’ from existing material. That distinction relies on personal interpretation, of course, and is informed by the context of its usage. For example, I think that Scarlett’s No Man’s Land is strengthened by his allusion to Act 2 of La Bayadere through his use of ramps, and to Mayerling in his choice of music (explained in my post on Lest We Forget). But I can see no contextual explanation for the similarities/associations I see within The Unknown Soldier; obviously, this is subjective to a large extent - I could argue the case for some of the similarities being there (eg Anastasia), but I wouldn’t convince myself. There is, however, one similarity that I only noticed in the second performance that I interpret as a true homage to other work. The Telegram Boy’s search for Florence among the milling crowd of women, combined with the music building to a tense climax, reminded me of the selection of ‘the chosen one’ in the Rite of Spring - I thought that association was sufficiently appropriate (both signified ‘inevitable, random death’) and clear (OK, it took me two viewings…) for me to label it a homage. That doesn't redeem the work in my mind - if anything it's the 'exception that proves the rule' to me that the piece is derivative and workmanlike (two words I don't like to use in relation to the ROH/RB). To finish Unknown Soldier on a more positive note (though it’s more to do with them rather than the material) I was really taken by the chemistry at work between Naghdi and Ball. I’m really looking forward to seeing them in R&J! Infra is a bit of a ‘Marmite’ ballet. I don’t like Marmite (my partner does) but I do love Infra (my partner doesn’t). I thought Takada was wonderful. In her duet with Dyer, she pulled off the not-inconsiderable trick of fashioning McGregor’s cryptic moves into conduits through which her emotions could flow. It was no surprise that when she was left, isolated and unnoticed, an island in a river of passers-by, and the music welled up, so did I (my partner, of course, didn't). I do enjoy having to blow my nose at the ROH! For me, the 'noise' is an essential part of the music:- it represented the constant, loud (almost painful) noise of modern life that we are all exposed to (and to which we all contribute in a small but cumulative way) but from which we seek refuge. It also acted as a contrasting 'ground' on which the 'figure' of the piano/strings sections could be better appreciated for the respite and emotional impact contained therein (that respite was important - for example, It's Gonna Rain in Multiverse was a bit too relentless!). Was it the presence of so many young people at these performances, or the sheer contrast between Symphony in C and the preceding works that produced such approving and uninhibited gasps, grunts, giggles and assorted noises from the audience? Whatever it was, it was great! The leads were on great form; Osipova seemed sharper; Lamb seemed slightly less ‘detached’ in her serenity (it could have been the angles, as last week in the amphi she seemed to have her eyes closed much of the time!); Choe was as bouncy and engaging as usual; Anna Rose’s timing was phenomenal. I’ve been trying to figure out what it is about this ballet that makes it so timeless and uplifting, and have concluded that it is the ballet equivalent of 24 carat gold - it is pure, unadulterated movement linked to music. And, like pure gold, it has universal appeal. There are no ‘impurities’ present, such as the abstract representation of complex, emotional relationships, or the less cryptic representation of sex/love/death within a narrative ballet, or even costumes other than the prototypical tutu and tights/top. The stage is plain, the lighting bright and uniform. That purity is helped by the one-to-one relationship between the music and dance - literally a step for every note. In other contexts that literal approach could be seen as simplistic or patronising. Here it forges the strongest link possible between that universal human tendency to link rhythmic sound to rhythmic movement. I’ve sometimes wondered what it’s like to have synaesthesia - for example, to be able to hear colour or see sound. Balanchine’s Symphony in C is probably the closest I’ll get to the latter - through his genius he enables me to see sound.
  5. Absolutely. The 'ghostly dead' in Ghost Dances exert their impact (on stage and in me) in a very visceral way. They always remind me (though it's actually the other way round, chronologically) of the aliens in the film, Predator:- creatures of immense and otherworldly power, moving silently among us and dispensing death in an unfeeling and irresistible way (unless their target is Arnie S, of course! 🙂). When it comes to Giselle, though, I'd like to reserve a place for Akram Khan's version alongside Ghost Dances. Of all the depictions of the 'supernatural' I've seen in dance/ballet, that is the most alien, chilling, malevolent and, yes, convincing. The unsettling picture of menace it paints on stage is made of many things: the lighting - (with the Wilis emerging silently from darkness, in a line and on-pointe); the music - (what I can only describe as a disconcerting 'veering' from side to side of the tempo/tone; plus the incorporation of electronic sound effects, including faint static); the 'dance language' - (being on-pointe = being supernatural); the bamboo cane as totem/weapon - (and the ritual killing of Hilarion by them); the frenzied violence of the reenactment of Giselle's death (to show Hilarion's guilt, and maybe to convince Giselle she is dead?); the 'induction' of Giselle into the netherworld - (with some sort of ethereal 'suction' being applied by Myrtha to draw her up, on-pointe and across!); and Myrtha herself - (her portrayal by Stina Quagebeur a wonderful mix of hisses, grimaces and gestures that added up to raw, malevolent power). Scary stuff!! 😮
  6. A Triple Bill can be a heady, intoxicating mix and, just like a Biblical wedding party, it will leave its best wine until last. So it turned out last night - though I imagine the hosts were somewhat embarrassed to start off the proceedings by unscrewing the ballet equivalent of a bottle of Blue Nun. The word ‘unsophisticated’ smacks of elitism, but that’s the best word I can think of to describe The Unknown Soldier. There are so many levels at which this didn’t work for me that it’s difficult to know where to start (and I have to qualify that remark with ‘for me’ because I fully recognise that anyone’s response to anything is completely determined by their unique mix of nature and nurture; to paraphrase the usual get-out clause, “other responses are available”). The title of the piece is ‘The Unknown Soldier’, so why name him in the cast sheet? How does that add more than it detracts? That might sound a bit pedantic, but it can be the little things that jar and make one question the integrity of the whole. The timing also jars. If I ever reach 100 years of age, I would like to think my Nursing Home will hold a little party at which I’ll get some cake, cards, and a telegram from the Queen (I would not be in the least surprised to find her still on the throne!). But it wouldn’t mean the same if her telegram arrived a couple of weeks too late; hang on, I’d think, the Queen has had 100 years to prepare that telegram! Timing is everything; the moment has passed. This tribute doesn’t sit well on this side of 11/11/2018 - it appears more tardy than timely. Unfortunately, for a work of art, it also came across as rather tacky; to stretch my '100th birthday telegram from the Queen' analogy a bit more, it was like getting one of those generic, ‘everything but the kitchen-sink’ greetings cards - with a spray of flowers on the front (with the card embossed to match the flowers), a sprinkle of glitter glued around the flowers, a hint of cheap perfume suffusing the card, and with a cloying, Patience Strong ‘inspirational’ verse in it, printed in a cursive, handwritten font. It tries desperately to press all the buttons, but ends up pressing none. Let’s start with the music; the words that spring to my mind are 'unsubtle, literal and derivative'. Perhaps as a result of commissioning a score from a film composer, we ended up with something trying to have a direct effect on the emotions by being literally tied to the action (like a score for a blockbuster/action movie). In terms of being derivative, the repeated, three-note brass motif reminded me of a similar one used to great effect by Lowell Liebermann in Frankenstein (to denote the monster, if I remember rightly). The opening section (once the intro was over) reminded me of Alice (the White Rabbit?). The music for the PDD between Feltham and Billington also sounded a bit too similar to that used for the PDD between Victor and Elizabeth in Frankenstein. Finally, there was a section that seemed pure Bernstein - which for me didn’t sit well with the 1914-18 period. Then there’s the visual effects. Use of projected video can be risky, probably because it’s so common that we all have experience of it (think Powerpoint presentations!). When done well it works well; an example would be the first and last sections of Woolf Works. However, simply projecting vastly magnified talking-heads (with a bit of vertical rasterisation thrown in) did nothing for me. Keeping the scrim partly in place, and continuing to project vertical lines on it just annoyed me by interfering with my view (and I was at the front of the Amphi; I presume the sight lines were even worse for those towards the back). Did the creative team pay any thought to those not paying an arm and a leg for non-Amphi seats? Then there’s the narration. Almost by definition, narration and ballet do not sit well together - though Sitwell’s poems in Facade are an exception (the spoken word also worked well in Woolf Works, in being used prior to the first and last pieces; also in Second Breath, with the rendition of Do Not Go Gentle… by Richard Burton incorporated into the music; and even in Facada with Osipova explaining what the Portuguese word ‘faca’ means). Last night I felt like I was in primary school, with the narration explaining to me what was going on on stage (particularly the very last bit; effectively being told that the group of almost-naked men cavorting around were in the ‘afterlife’ and would always be with us). I didn’t need it, I don’t want it. There was a place for those words, and that was printed in the cast sheet (one of the broadsheet cast sheets, not the new, tabloid ones). I could have read it beforehand and recalled it during the performance. Barking out ‘quick march’ orders on stage was also a step too far for me. Keeping the scrim down for the stage calls was also too literal; OK, we get it - all the people in the ballet, men and women, are now dead and ‘on the other side’, but the whole point of these calls is that they break the invisible fourth wall - we don't want a fifth wall! And on the subject of the see-through netting that is scrim, why did Joseph Sissens’ ‘telegraph boy’ costume appear to be made out of blue scrim? For someone whose appearance was a harbinger of death, the costume appeared rather inappropriate. There were a few positives. Bracewell, O’Sullivan and Sissens made the most of the poor material they were provided with. Through the story of Florence Billington, I am now more aware of the ‘collateral’ casualties of the Great War (though Lest We Forget conveyed the effects of the war on relationships more convincingly). Finally, I can see no excuse - other than, say, the 140th anniversary of the Great War - to revive this work, by which time I will be more focussed on getting a telegram from the Queen than I will be in making the trip to the ROH (assuming I can still remember where it is by then). I do like Infra. The staging, music and some of the choreography work for me; in fact, the section from the ‘moving crowd’ scene with the stationary Munch-like girl to the end of the ballet usually presses a combination of buttons in my head such that I have to surreptitiously blow my nose at the end of the performance. It did that last night, though not as much as it has in previous runs. I think a lot of that is down to the music; it is mournful, soulful (with the interjection of the loud, random noises acting to highlight that feeling through contrast). During the interval I even considered whether transposing the Infra music to The Unknown Soldier would immediately improve the latter! Symphony in C was a joy to watch and a great way to finish off the evening. And what a welcome contrast to the other two pieces (that many in the audience thought the same was evident by the excited response to the curtain going up on a brightly-lit stage with ballerinas in tutus!). I was sat next to a young lady who was seeing ballet at the ROH for the first time; she kept excitedly exclaiming (quietly) every time a wave of dancers appeared - and very heart-warming that response was, too! There seemed to be a lot of teenagers in the audience (at least in the Amphi); I presume they were there for McGregor’s Infra as it is now part of the GCSE curriculum. It would have been interesting to have carried out a survey at the end to find out which they liked the most… Despite my dislike for The Unknown Soldier, I am pleased it was commissioned and performed. To explain why, I’d like to go off at what might seem like a tangent (or even off my rocker). I was thinking on the way home that last night’s Triple Bill is a good example of Darwinism. ‘Selection of the fittest’ requires that variety is introduced, and in ballet that is the commissioning of new works. Last night we saw one new piece, one about ten years old, and one decades old. At one time, all were ‘new’ and were released into the ‘testing ground of Darwinism' that is public performance. Only those that ‘survive’ public approval tend to be shown repeatedly, and the failures fall by the wayside and drift into obscurity. Over time, those that survive are changed ever so subtly in response to the changing environment in which they find themselves (without wishing to open up that can of worms again, the recent run of a staple ballet is an example). The ‘old’ ballets that we see and love are the survivors, but there is a legion of other works that didn’t (what might be called ‘hopeful monsters’ in Darwinian terms). Unless we believe in an omniscient choreographic god (and perhaps only [insert your favourite choreographer here] might aspire to that!), then poor works are inevitable (and in the majority over the long term). Last night I thought The Unknown Soldier was an evolutionary dead-end, Infra a piece that has long-term promise, and Symphony in C a nigh-on perfect creation, ideally suited to its environmental niche.
  7. Here's a shoo-in; this notary has experience of dealing with prenuptial shenanigans...
  8. I'll second that, and in a cinema performance of superlatives mention the start of the Muntagirov/Ospiova 'betrothal' PDD in Act 1. They were so perfectly synchronised for those first series of leaps/turns (I've not idea of the technical term) across and back across the rear of the stage, that Muntagirov could have been Osipova's shadow!
  9. We went to the local Vue cinema this afternoon to catch the encore screening, only to find a scrum* of people trying to get into the multiplex; crikey, we thought, word has got round about the brilliant La Bayadere run! It turned out that most were there for the latest 'Fantastic Beasts' film, so only about 30 of us ended up heading to Screen 6 to watch our own trio of fantastic beasts - Nunez, Osipova and Muntagirov. There's no need to 'review' the performance, as that's been done elsewhere; so I'll concentrate on the screening (and hopefully the eventual DVD!). It's a bit of a caricature, but to me a typical ROH relay ends up containing one or more of the following elements... loads of head/torso shots (especially when the dancer is doing something wonderful with their legs - eg spinning) tight tracking shots, sometimes when the dancer is leaping, so you have no idea where the person is on the stage or how high off it they are (and no idea what is happening elsewhere) lots of cuts from one one camera to another, seemingly every few seconds (though, thankfully, never that terrible overhead camera they always switch to at La Scala when anyone is spinning!) very few wide-shots - as if they don't want dancers to appear as small, fuzzy blobs like they did in the old VHS days, but don't realise most people now have full HD (or better) TVs Well, all I can say is 'thank you Ross MacGibbon & team' for this broadcast; it really did justice to what was going on on stage! Yes, there was the odd issue (covered later), but overall it played like you might watch a performance in the ROH itself - much of it with the unaided eye, then zooming in with binoculars for the action/acting. On the plus side... I don't think there was one occasion where I was thinking 'show me their legs!' because the camera was on the upper body OK, Act 2 contains a broad ensemble piece covering the whole stage, but nevertheless a lot of the coverage of Act 2 was a simple static shot of the whole stage - lovely! some of the PDDs were shown with both dancers in fairly wide view; again, you could see what they were doing, where they were doing it in relation to others on the stage, and what those others were doing. Ross didn't just try to fill the screen top to bottom with 'skin'. the cuts from one camera to another were much less frequent than usual (the Bolshoi broadcasts are my 'standard' here; they tend to hold camera angles for nice long periods of time) the close-ups helped explain the story rather than detract from the dancing There was one seemingly minor (but to me major!) issue. Up until Manon, broadcasts never seemed to use video 'tricks'; with Manon, they tried a fade from one camera to another at the end of a scene, but messed it up and showed a fancy 'star' transition instead. For me, there is no place for video effects of any kind; they don't add anything - they detract. Well, they tried something in this broadcast. When Solor got up from his couch in Act 2, it was almost like the broadcast cut to the weather forecast - in the cinema we were treated to wall-to-wall clouds for a couple of seconds before cutting back to the corps coming down the ramp. This was a CGI trick; there was no scrim to project the clouds onto, and we didn't see them in the ROH on the night of the performance. All in all, though, a wonderfully atmospheric broadcast where we had the 'freedom' to look where we wanted to much of the time - and I am really looking forward to it being released on DVD! Fingers crossed! *like a scrim, but thicker.
  10. And are there three better dancers to take on these roles (in fact, is there a better trio of dancers in the world at this point in time, full-stop?)? Completely agree, Richard LH - it's all definitely subjective, which is why I sprinkled the sentence with question-marks to make it into what was (in the context of the rest of the post), to me, a bit of a rhetorical musing rather than a factual statement (ie "these are the three best dancers, both for this ballet and in the world"; NB, if I ever make a statement like that, will someone please throw me off the forum!). I guess the problem is that we all need to use shorthand to express thoughts and trigger others; heaven knows my posts go on a bit as they are, so the last thing I want to do is try to fully qualify such thoughts so they cover all eventualities - like a legal contract. As others have mentioned, Friday's performance was something special - one of those nights that you can hope for, but never predict. I really did come out of the ROH wondering if I'd just seen the best ever Bayadere I was ever likely to see, and what that meant in terms of the stature of the dancers who delivered it. I woke up Saturday morning feeling exactly the same; and I still feel that way. In fact, my partner and I were seriously considering not going to the encore screening this afternoon in case it messed up our memories of Friday (we did, and it didn't).In my view, Friday's performance was that darned good, and my hyperbolic musings reflect more on that than they do in any belief I have (which I haven't) that somehow subjective experience can be turned into uncontestable objective measurement (it can't).
  11. Going to a performance with the leads drawn from Muntagirov/Corrales/Nunez/Osipova is a bit like choosing three cards from a deck made entirely of aces - you know you're onto a winner, but the actual hand you draw will have subtle and interesting variations. Well, we were dealt a unique hand last night with Vadim stepping in for the injured Corrales, coupled with the second outing of Osipova as Nikiya and Nunez as Gamzatti. And are there three better dancers to take on these roles (in fact, is there a better trio of dancers in the world at this point in time, full-stop?)? In terms of the totality of the performance, last night's combination was the best (though it will always be marginal!) of the five I've seen drawn from these four leads. If anything, the minor niggles of a rather under-powered High Brahmin (who also managed to give away to the left half of the audience the 'secret' of how the Bronze Idol disappears) plus a lacklustre second shade, acted as a reference point from which to triangulate the giddy heights achieved by the rest of the cast. As she has done before to great effect, Nunez played Gazmatti with the steely entitledness that came with her royal status. We had glimpses of the inherent fragility of that polished, glassy exterior during her confrontation with Nikiya in Act 1, and it was shattered in Act 3 along with the temple when she was forced to confront the depth of Solor's love for Nikiya. Muntagirov has it all - looks, lines, height, landings, projection, presence. His acting is also improving (in leaps and bounds? ); his anguish last night was palpable. And, to top it off, he just seems so 'nice'! There's no more to be said! I can pay no greater compliment to Osipova than to say she didn't turn up last night - instead, she sent someone called Nikiya to take her place. She was so utterly convincing, and I was so utterly convinced. And it was seemingly random brush strokes that built up the picture of Nikiya into the masterpiece presented to us; her panicked reaction to being confronted by Gamzatti in Act 1 - the contrast between high and low-born opened up before us like a chasm; the clatter of the knife she dropped to the stage - which brought home the gravity of her violent intent; the transitions from hopeful joy when showing Solor the bottle of antidote, to blank incomprehension when he didn't respond accordingly, and then to a conscious decision to die - which is oh so subtly different to a decision not to live!! Osipova is perhaps the most honest and selfless dancer I have ever seen; she exposes every fibre of her character on stage, and in doing so she fades from view: her Giselle is not 'Osipova dancing Giselle', but just 'Giselle'; her Anastasia is not 'Osipova dancing Anastasia', but just 'Anastasia'. That, to me, is a mark of greatness. Then there is the pairing of Muntagirov and Osipova. I don't think it's hyperbole to say we are blessed when they are cast together. For opening night, for the broadcast 'rehearsal', and for the broadcast itself, their Act 1 Solor/Gamzatti betrothal PDD was an absolute joy to behold - but, of course, their relationship to each other in those roles is not one of unbridled love. But, sometimes, fate intervenes and unintentionally casts them together in roles that celebrate mutual love - and that seems to catalyse a natural chemistry that exists between them. It wasn't too long ago that Muntagirov took over from an injured Bonelli to partner her in Sylvia - a fundamentally daft, but thoroughly enjoyable, romp through mythology - complete with elastic-band bows and fluffy-toy lambs. But somehow they took their Act 3 PDD and elevated it to a completely different level - it became an exposition and celebration of their profound love for each other, and it sang out from the stage in a way that caught my breath. Similarly, fate conspired to have Muntagirov's Solor and Osipova's Nikiya explore and express their mutual love last night; the same magic was evident (particularly in Act 2), as was me catching my breath. I think fate is trying to send Kevin O'Hare a message - cast these two together more often; don't rely on fate! A few other observations, mostly positive... Finally, I've got to see a 'gold' Bronze Idol! Sambe was wonderful; powerful, precise - all articulated limbs and poses. The way he finished the spin towards the end of his piece spoke of total control. And, speaking of control, Marianela's extended balance in the Act 2 PDD was incredible; I know there have been views expressed about individuals showboating their technique to the detriment of the role, but it fitted this showcase PDD wonderfully, and drew spontaneous applause from an very appreciative audience. The corps were on brilliant - potentially flawless - form in Act2. Again, extended and well-deserved applause from the audience. Anna Rose O'Sullivan - twinkle, twinkle little star. There she was rehearsing Infra on the Insight broadcast on Thursday evening, and dancing a superb first shade last night; what a contrast. There were no dropped lamps in Act 3 (which was very slightly disappointing as I find it interesting to watch the dancers recover them... 🙂 ). Even the snake seemed to have improved its 'stage presence'; it was bigger, longer, badder - more snaky! Has it been taking extension lessons? But, like the monster at the end of a horror flick that 'comes back from the dead' to give us one last shock, the scrim has reappeared for Acts 2 and 3! Aaaaargh!!!
  12. I do hope it wasn't Oriental Carpet Moth - we don't want to start all that again.... 😛
  13. And she did the same on-stage for Vadim & Marianela when they first appeared at the curtain calls on opening night.
  14. To echo the sentiments of others, I think the Royal Ballet and by extension we, the audience, are currently blessed with an embarrassment of riches in terms of repertoire and dancers. That we can show these off to the world through live relays (which are sometimes released on DVD for us to savour!) is an added bonus. Frankly, it's nights like last night that make the expense* and 6 hour car/tube round trip seem almost inconsequential. Nunez has been steadily cutting and honing the facets of a beautiful gemstone in her last two performances, and last night she polished it to perfection. If there was one thing that distracted from the magic of her Act 2 last Thursday it was the noise of her feet; last night she conjured up some form of magic to create silence. I didn't find Nunez too regal in her dancing (or not enough of a "child of the jungle and temple"); royalty and religion both end up elevated above the hoi polloi - while ostensibly serving their best interests - so to me that persona was apt. I did find, however, that she seemed to be playing a bit too much to the wider, cinema audience in the very 'gracious' way she took some of her bows and curtain calls. Vadim didn't really have anywhere else to go - by last Thursday he had improved his expression to match his excellent technique, and my worry was that he might have 'peaked too soon'. Well, no worries, he was still up there on the summit of Everest. I really felt his anguish in the final act - being torn apart by an immaterial love that refused to die, and a material love that refused to cede his heart. And as for Osipova's Gamzatti; on opening night her actions were driven by pure passion; last Thursday by cold pragmatism; last night she mixed the two to form a dangerous amalgam - and someone propelled by the raw power of their emotions, but directing and exerting that power rationally, is a very dangerous person indeed. I found her Act 3 solo very affecting, and I'm convinced she expressed her pent-up emotions/frustrations by throwing in extra rotations into some of her spins! They just seemd quicker than last week (though the music was of the similar tempo). Or was it just me getting caught up in the moment? I also choked up during the Act 2 'betrothal' PDD; Osipova and Muntagirov were simply gorgeous - there is something about getting two dancers (especially one male and one female - of different intrinsic physical strengths) plus the music to present in a synchrony so perfect that it resonates and makes the heart sing. It's a triumph of manifest order over potential chaos - like watching a beautiful sunset develop from the randomness that is the weather. And to make it so effortless belies the incredible skill and sheer hard work that underpins it. For the first time with this cast I found myself clapping the Bronze Idol. In the first performance I thought Campbell was just sloppy; in the second he'd improved the top half of his body, but at the expense of the lower; but last night he seemed to be right on the button - sharp, precise, synchronised. This begs the question - does he need the added pressure of a live performance to give it his all? Yuhui was on sparkling, solid, note-perfect form last night. As was Naghdi - she really is something special. Anna Rose O'Sullivan also twinkled like the nascent star that she is. Only God can be perfect, an old mentor used to tell me, so thankfully last night was only as close to heaven as we mortals are allowed to get. The corps in Act 2 were excellent, but I got the impression they were not quite as good as last Thursday; maybe I'll get that impression overturned when I try to catch an 'encore' screening on Sunday. I heard a lamp drop in Act 3, and saw it sat on the stage, but I'm blowed if I can recall seeing it get picked up! Those dancers are so adept (more on-stage magic, but this time of the sleight-of-hand/distraction variety?). But I guess they are trained for just that (almost inevitable) eventuality. In the interval I'd actually said to the person next to me to watch out for one or more dropped lamps; in fact, maybe it should be made an integral part of the ballet as it adds a little bit of uncertainty, of excitement, to the proceedings (perhaps there could be a 'chosen one', as in the Rite of Spring!). Poor Marianela came back out on stage to take applause in Act 2 and wasn't picked out by a spotlight - OK, she's a shade, but that was taking it too literally! Seriously though, dancers (especially dancers as good as her!) coming back on for applause is a given and should not take anyone by surprise. * I've previously said I'd be happy to pay twice the price for tickets to performances of this calibre, which is theoretically true, though I feel I should clarify (since I know on which side my bread is buttered) that it's my partner who funds our mutual addiction...
  15. Unfortunately, that brigade can be quite vocal and high-profile; here is an extract from Luke Jennings' LB review (my emphasis)... "But there’s no getting around the fact that this is a deeply problematic ballet. With its inanely capering fakirs, lustful priests and blithe appropriation of Hindu, Islamic and Buddhist religious and cultural motifs, it’s pretty much a compendium of 19th-century orientalist attitudes. Some commentators, bringing contemporary sensibilities to bear, advocate relocating the work to a non-specific, non-Indian setting and cutting out its offensive elements. Others would like to see the work excised from the ballet repertoire altogether."