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Richard Soper

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  1. Having read all the wonderful accounts on the forum of Cojocaru's interpretation of Giselle, I couldn't help feeling a little bit disappointed when I realised that the only performance I was going to be able to make was yesterday's matinee. But I really shouldn't have worried – Alison McWhinney (who I remembered delivering a really sensitive Juliet on a dark autumn afternoon in Southampton in 2015) absolutely wowed as the innocent-turned-wraith in this terrific production by ENB. Strangely, I realised afterwards that it was for exactly the same reason I loved her performance yesterday as I did the earlier one. At the heart of this story is Giselle's development from a shy teenager to the strong mature woman (albeit in ghostly form) who stands up to the fearful Myrtha to protect the man she loves and has forgiven. McWhinney carried off this transition so effectively that the memory of Giselle's earlier happy innocence made her defiant protection of Albrecht, her arms spread wide in front of her grave, really very moving. But the whole production was a delight, and, with its juxtaposition to Akram Khan's ballet, is another bright feather in ENB's cap of innovation. We can now see that offering these two works almost side by side was no gimmick, but helped to bring out the timelessness of the story, and its several layers. I hadn't realised (although I can see many forum members did) that the particular significance of Mary Skeaping's version was its attempt to get close to the original vision of the ballet. To me, this production really did feel like something out of the 1840's, and that made it a particularly enjoyable contrast to Khan's work. Final shout-outs: the orchestra seemed to me to be on tip-top form (is it just me, or do the ballet company orchestras all seem to have upped their game over the last eighteen months or so?) And I agree with those members who have pointed out how well the lighting and staging worked in Act Two. I'm sure I'm not alone in loving both the idea and the stage reality of the Willis – delivered here by the company with that extra bit of menace that was wanted whist still remaining beautiful and alluring. And of course Myrtha is up there with the great villainesses of the ballet, danced with appropriate gravity yesterday by Jung ah Choi. Altogether a perfectly wonderful way to spend a couple of hours on a cold winter's afternoon in central London.
  2. Me too - for the third or fourth time I think - this time in Southampton in early December. BTW - many members clearly loathe the Mayflower, but I really don't mind it. Providing it's fairly full and there's a good performance, the atmosphere can be very powerful. But there are a lot of seats to fill (cap 2,300 according to Wikipedia - about the same as the Coliseum), so a full house at the Leeds Grand or even the Lowry will leave a lot of empty seats in Southampton. Really can't be much fun for the performers when it's like that...
  3. The first thing to say was that the talent on display at Sadler's Wells last night - for Rambert's 'The Creation' - was copious. Bringing such high quality dancers, musicians and singers together into one grand performance is a particular pleasure – I remember feeling the same about David Bintley's Carmina Burana last year. The three forces, when working together to deliver a precise effect can be just breathtaking. And there were exhilarating moments like that in last night's performance, especially when the stage was full of fast moving dancers, and chorus, orchestra and singers united to deliver the joyous end section of each day. But I couldn't help feeling that this was also a show which forwent many of the opportunities on offer. Mark Baldwin asserts in his programme note: 'I think it's important not to be too literal', and who could disagree with that? But perhaps through being so focused on that dictum, there were times when dance and oratorio seemed to be pulling against each other rather than working together to celebrate the meaning of Milton's words. Frankly, the whole concept seemed to me to work best when a bit of literalism was allowed to break through, as in the sections set in Eden, where – presumably unavoidably – the dancers style of movement, and their relationship to each other, conveyed their affection. I was looking out for the 'odd poses' to which Ian Macmillan referred (and frankly there were plenty to choose from!) but I never felt the dance style itself became distracting as can happen with some contemporary performances. For me, dance (classical and contemporary) is at its most powerful expressing emotion or at least something relational. It wouldn't be my first choice medium to express abstract, unemotional concepts like 'chaos' or 'light'. So parts of The Creation were always going to be a challenge! It was noticeable that fluidity and common purpose of dance and music seemed greater (and therefore more satisfying) in the second half of the performance when the process of creation had advanced to the animal and human stages! In amongst all this, there was no faulting the prowess of the lead dancers – their energy and precision was really impressive – and singers, orchestra and chorus were all outstandingly good. Costumes left me slightly puzzled – the dancers were dressed in lycra suits with tassles, ruffs and bobbles which gave them a pierrot-esque appearance. Maybe it was pierrot as everyman, certainly it gave the individual dancers a kind of anonymity. The set was striking – a screen of gothic tracery in front of which the dancers performed with orchestra and singers on stage behind – and worked well practically and visually An enjoyable and interesting evening full of talent and ambition.
  4. Thanks, Ian - off to see it tonight, and very much looking forward to it!
  5. After much anticipation I also finally saw this production last Thursday evening in Southampton. It was one of the most powerful performances I have ever experienced, and I was profoundly moved by it. There are so many great reviews and commentaries already in this thread (thank you everyone!), so I'll confine myself to a few random comments by way of a contribution to the discussion. Although several members found the overall level too dark, I cannot think of think of another ballet where I felt the use of lighting was more appropriate. I had the advantage of sitting in the second row, and I'm sure this helped – from further back some of the subtlety may well have been lost, and it may have appeared just too much like shades of gloom. In contrast with the deep darkness and blinding brightness which occasionally enveloped the stage, I thought the subtlety of shading and positioning, especially in Act One was masterful, and really supported the narrative and building mood. The music was remarkably effective with (as others have pointed out) a combination of scratching, sinister fog siren sounds, right through to close quotations from Adam. However, despite the wide range of its character I felt it was at all times solidly integrated with the ballet itself. The staging was stunning – the wall/monolith was a very effective dominating feature, emphasising the sense of oppression and alienation of the Outcasts at the start, and – positioned at a different angle - creating the claustrophobic feel of an underground world for the Wilis to inhabit in Act Two. A key insight is contained in Ruth Little's contribution to the programme, 'The violence of Inequality', which explains the creative thinking of this reimagining. It's about globalisation and its victims – not just those living in post-industrial Britain at the start of the 21st century, but also those of colonial India in the 19th. Knowing this I loved how Khan's ballet blended 19th Century (and modern) European with Indian classical dance movement into a convincing fusion of styles which made the point better than any words that this was about something universal. Frankly, as many members have said, the narrative is full of holes, and I perceived them as weaknesses as others have done. The roles (and motivations) of the leads are insufficiently clear, and the progress of the plot – while easy enough for those of us familiar with the story of Giselle – will probably lose anyone who doesn't know the original. However, these are such obvious points it's curious that Khan hasn't resolved them. I read somewhere that he had only seen Giselle once when he accepted the commission, but he will have been surrounded by those who know it very well indeed, and must have felt as we all seem to. I've therefore concluded that the relative lack of plot detail is probably a conscious choice, perhaps because he feared that more plot/motivation detailing could have detracted from the power of the overall impressionistic effect. In any event, I'm certainly not expecting any future production to 'fill in the gaps'. I wholeheartedly agree with Don Q Fan and Northstar who have expressed admiration for Rojo's leadership of ENB. Clearly her mission is to give it a distinctiveness as a company leading innovation, confirmed by her recent statements about 'reinventing the classics'. Frankly I just like enjoying something new and fresh and it's good to see the cultural cross-fertilisation here in ballet as it is already taken for granted as a well-spring of creativity in other arts. Finally, since it was the ENB, the dancing was wonderful of course, and I fully agree with those who have said they found the Company 'dancing their hearts out'. The star role for me was Hilarion, danced superbly by Oscar Chacon. In many ways his is the most developed individual character on the stage, and he probably therefore had the chance to express the widest range of emotions, from pathetic to just plain nasty. Fernando Bufala delivered Albrect, (relatively weaker in prominence as Hilarion is stonger), and Fernanda Oliveira was just wonderful as Giselle. I don't think I have ever before seen so much en pointe dancing from so many for so long as from the Wilis in Act Two – I kept thinking, they must stop soon, they must stop soon... but Khan clearly didn't think that less would be more in this particular case! It must have been very demanding for the dancers, pre-eminent amongst them Isabelle Brouwers as Myrtha, who perfectly conveyed the requisite combination of menace and other-worldliness. This ballet certainly doesn't aim to leave its audiences feeling comfortable at its end. After all the issues which drive the real plot (about the imbalance of power, wealth and security) remain unresolved. And even though Giselle's love delivers some respite, it is imperfect, and the Landlords will still be remote from and exploiting the Outcasts wherever they are, and the Wilis will still be waiting to extract their revenge after the deeds of injustice have been done. So what is there to feel comfortable about...... except perhaps the prospect of seeing the same casts in Mary Skeaping's Giselle in January!
  6. I really like this little piece - I hadn't seen anything choreographed by Toby before - so thanks for the link, Janet.
  7. Having read the many (often refreshingly conflicting!) comments in the forum about this, I really didn't know what I was in for at Sadlers' Wells last night. After Janet's comments, I was was especially cautious after the interval, but I needn't have worried...I actually enjoyed it all. Shakespeare it ain't, and Alice and others have made the point well that The Tempest is a complex drama, and it's hard to see how many of the more metaphysical themes could be woven into dance as part of a wider narrative. That said, I thought Bintley did really well in taking the framework of the story and turning it into something which was satisfying as a whole and contained some moments of genuine beauty. The design of this production was outstanding, and I especially loved the storm scene – created low-tech with huge painted sheets and strobes. For the majority of the action, stage and scenery are kept simple, which makes the ultimate revelation of the ship in the final scene especially effective. Within the dances themselves there was much to like – I particularly enjoyed the contrast between Miranda's encounter with Caliban and her pdd with Ferdinand which followed it. I didn't find the masque in Act 2 overlong at all, and the same point which Terpsicore makes in her blog about the place of these showpiece diversions in classical ballet occurred to me as I was watching it – I actually felt it was a rather successful attempt to give the act a familiar structure. But like Janet, Alice and others, I really didn't like the straw hats and yokel outfits – the costuming pulled in all sorts of distracting references (line dancing?) - and I thought was quite destructive of the mood, which was otherwise well built up. I liked Neptune too (although not the over-costumed fish-people), but also loved the three goddesses. All four of these parts were beautifully danced Lachlan Monaghan, Celine Gittens, Yvette Knight and Delia Matthews. Lachlan and Yvette in particular were mesmerising. It was a neat touch too to have these three female dancers present as Prospera and her attendants in the flash back sequence to the moment of the usurpation, allowing them to play parts in both the highest and lowest moments of the narrative. Having disparaged the fish costumes and straw hats, I must also mention how effective I thought the costuming and design treatment (and indeed the dancing!) of the Spirits of the Feast and the Spirits as Hunting Hounds were. Both wonderfully conveyed the respective moods of their sequences (of ghostly fear and pursuit terror). Iain Mackay, Tyrone Singleton and Mathias Dingman all gave very strong performances as Prospero, Caliban and Ariel respectively, and Jenna Roberts totally and beautifully captured the role of Miranda, with some fine classical dancing. As for the music, I settled into it as the performance progressed. There were some (fairly brief on reflection) moments in the first act when I wondered what kind of dialogue Bintley and Beamish must have had, but they soon passed, and overall I thought the score was fresh, creative and appropriate to the ballet. Finally, I loved the choreographed curtain call. The Tempest was originally classified as a comedy (presumably because of the wedding) and it does have a happy ending after all, so this uplifting full-cast coda fitted here really well I thought. As to just how significant a ballet Bintley has created, I'm not quite convinced it will be amongst his greatest pieces, but we'll see. What we already know is that it offers a very enjoyable evening's dance.
  8. This is the first break I have had since thoroughly enjoying Northern Ballet's Romeo and Juliet in Woking last Friday, and I'm determined to put down a few thoughts before any more time elapses! It was the second time I had seen this production – managing to get to one of the early days in Leeds last year. I loved it then, and I loved it even more last week! I last saw NB in Richmond back in May when the performance was Cathy Marston's wonderful, feminist interpretation of Jane Eyre, and I remember thinking then how the whole NB crew – dancers and musicians - seemed on tip-top form. Well, whatever they're putting in the water in Leeds these days, it's definitely continuing to do its work, as the same spirit was fully in evidence in Woking last week. I sat in the front row, and the energy and precision with which all the dancers moved around the stage was striking from the very start. Martha Leebolt was at her absolute best in delivering the transition of Juliet from playful ingenue to tragic heroine via a fully believable coup de foudre passion. Seeing Martha dancing with NB as so often in the past now seems like a stolen pleasure as we await her departure. I so hope she (and indeed Tobias Batley) will continue their relationship with the Company in some form, whatever else they may decide to do. I know some have been wondering about succession at NB, but from the performances I saw last Friday there is little to be concerned about. Antoinette Brooks-Daw got fully into character once more to create the nurse – I well remember how she stole the show with her slapstick Helena in MSND a couple of years ago – but she was also a stand-out as a deeply expressive young Jane in Jane Eyre. Javier Torres is such a familiar presence in NB productions now, I wonder if there is any role he couldn't dance. His natural strength (as here as Tybalt) is as the strong man of course, but he was also brilliant as Rochester in Jane Eyre, where he progressed (or is that regressed?) from arrogant master, through sensitive lover to broken, dependent shell. There are three others to mention from a wonderful cast. Lucia Solari impressed me from the moment she joined NB three years ago. I am not sure how often she has had the opportunity to dance leading roles with the Company, but in the performances I have seen, she has always filled second level parts - as here. As Lady Capulet (and according to this version in a relationship with Tybalt) she totally commanded the stage whenever she appeared. She is a really beautiful and expressive dancer and I very much hope I will have the chance to see her in some leading roles with NB before too long. From the Coryphee, Matthew Koon was a perfect Mercutio: he delivered the cheeky defiant gestures and postures of the role very naturally and with precision, and I am sure we will see much more of him in the future. Finally, Mlindi Kulashe as Friar Lawrence was an inspired casting. He conveyed the agony of fore-knowing the inevitability of the tragedy with spectacular drama, and I am looking forward to seeing him grow as a dancer in the years ahead. The creation of the role of Friar Lawrence is fascinating in itself, initially conceived perhaps as one of those many ballet inventions required to 'assist' the narrative to transition from spoken drama/written word into dance. However whatever its origin, it has become in this interpretation a very important figure indeed, and in my view gives this ballet a real distinctiveness. The Friar is frequently presented in a kind of anguish, and on more than one occasion in a representation of crucifixion. I loved the way his style of movement contrasted with that of every other character in the performance, and his 'master of ceremonies' ability to freeze the action. He is able to see into the future (the puppet show) but unable to prevent the coming tragedy (failing to stop the scenery moving inexorably into the next scene). He is a fresh character in a long line of artist/commentator figures, and for me is a welcome addition! Finally, the design of this production is a deliberate contrast to our expectations, and I welcomed that too. The familiar deeply coloured medieval costumes are exchanged for layers of texture in cream and shots of pastels. These do stand out against pieces of plain abstract scenery which slide against each other and with a minimum of props. I do enjoy the grandeur of the classic Nureyev or MacMillan productions (especially in the Ballroom scheme!) but this Jean-Christophe Maillot version will be my favourite for now – I hope we get the chance to see it again before too long.
  9. I saw this for the first time on Wednesday and thoroughly enjoyed it. The changes in the ordering of the music, and the assignment of some of the dances is disorientating, but I settled into it much better when just I went with the flow and tried to stop comparing it a classic performance - 'tried' because it's all so very familiar of course! I knew of the ballet before, and in particular the well publicised references to the Charles/Diana/Camilla story, but I found that became distracting too, so I tried to jettison that narrative as well. For me the merging of the characters of Odile and Rothbart worked very well despite the regretted loss of a favourite melodramatic villain! The resulting Baroness was a much more rounded character offering the chance to a third principal to dance through a wider range of emotions. This narrative has Siegfried disloyal from the get-go, and his weakness (as much as the Baroness's plotting) drives the story - it felt wholly appropriate that he was denied the usual 'united after death' trope. I found I instantly liked the blending of classical and modern dancing, although it certainly won't appeal to all, and I came to enjoy the twists inserted into the most familiar dances (the Dance of the Cygnets comes to mind). The design of the production is outstanding and I thought the beautiful costuming in particular reflected great attention and precision. Amber Scott was amazing as Odette - this ballet arguably calls for a wider range of emotions in its female lead than the classic version, and Scott delivered tentative, scorned, mad, seductive and serene with equal skill and grace. Adam Bull's Siegfried didn't hit me in quite the same way, but I suspect that was because not so much was asked of him rather than it being any reflection of his performance. But I was really impressed by Dimity Azoury as the Baroness - the sensuality of her delivery was compulsive, and her collapse during Act 3 was wonderfully done. If it was designed to make us feel a tinge of sorry for her despite all she had done - it worked with me! Altogether a memorable evening for me, although our familiar Swan Lake was really just the starting point.
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