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  1. Triple Bill – Thursday I can think of no better way to enjoy ballet than by going along to the ROH on cinema broadcast night. You are there (and there is not, as yet, a substitute for ‘being there’ – though once immersive VR technologies mature it might become a tougher choice, especially for those of us with long journeys), you can look wherever you like on stage, and you can soak up the atmosphere (of both ROH and the buzz of London in general). You can then go to an encore screening the following Sunday to see it all again, much of it in close-up – though with your view being dictated by the director – and often with interesting background pieces and interviews during the intervals. Then, if we are lucky, the powers that be will deign to release it on DVD/Blu-Ray, which then allows us to drop ‘I was there’ into as many conversations as we can! 😊 In The Golden Hour I can’t get as worked up about this ballet as many do on both this forum and in the press. I enjoyed it more than I did on opening night of this run and, in turn, more than I did during the previous run. But I think my appreciation has plateaued – and not at a particularly lofty height. More a pleasant walk in the Cotswolds than the magnificent vistas of the Alps – or even the Lake District. I guess that’s OK, as I don’t believe Wheeldon was trying to achieve anything more than a bit of light distraction. In that sense Bosso’s music (which I do like) is appropriately light, undemanding and easy on the ear. The interjection of those ugly moves still rankles. Yes, they stamp the piece as ‘Wheeldon’ but to me it’s the balletic equivalent of a painter scrawling their signature across an otherwise pleasant canvas rather than signing it discreetly in the corner. I can even reconcile this by interpreting the piece as about beautiful people letting their hair down a bit and enjoying themselves in that ‘golden hour’ (or is that ‘happy hour’?) at the end of a long day; they are there to entertain themselves rather than others, so apart from the odd ‘look at me’ glance (which I thought Beatrix did particularly well!) they don’t care how they behave. The trouble is, I’m not that interested in their self-centred world. And talking about hair, it was nice to see that the dancer with the most hirsute legs last week was clean-shaven last night! He might also have been out catching some sun as he looked a lot less pallid. All in all a definite improvement. Medusa It’s nice to be succinct, and I’ll try not to repeat anything from my earlier post, but I will need more than the two word summary of @Darlex (and certainly not those two words 😊 ). I was fascinated by this piece last week and continue to be now. My interest and appreciation of it has grown. I don’t know how high this one will go, but at the moment it’s heading towards a base-camp somewhere (so it won’t be the Cotswolds); my problem is that I’ve only got the Sunday encore screening left – so I have my fingers crossed for a DVD. What completely by-passed me last time was the sheer amount of time Osipova spends on stage. Apart from the two costume changes, she is constantly there - and at the centre of the action as well. Was an amazing feat of sustained, intense and captivating acting and dancing – she might well be playing the role of a Gorgon, but as a dance/actor she is an absolute Titan. In the fight scenes, I couldn’t help but think of the similarity of her leg – in the way she held and used it to deadly effect – with that of the stinging tail of a scorpion. I thought the fight scenes better executed than the first night. I remember from the insight evening an emphasis on maintaining contact between her hands and the heads of the assailing soldiers, and that came across very well last night. I also didn’t notice last time how atmospheric was the lighting of the pillars; lit from the front, the soldiers’ shadows were cast in giant, menacing form upon them. Hirano was superb last time, but last night he was even better. He looked (and behaved) as if someone had chiselled a powerful and fearsome deity off an ancient frieze and inadvertently brought it to life. OK, makeup and lighting played some part, but he was an inverted triangle of sculptured sinew, muscle and irresistible power. He is incredibly strong anyway (I'm thinking back to the way he threw Hayward around in the Act 1 PDD of Mayerling), and here he moved Osipova around as if she were a shop window mannequin (the sequence where he balances her on his feet was, once again, hugely impressive – she looked as if she were held, helpless, in some sort of stasis field – thanks, @Sim, for your Star Trek comment that made me think this way!). The storyline retained its slow, even, stylised, tableaux feel - which worked for me - and I noticed even more than before how the music provided the dramatic colour to the pastel shades on stage, with the transitions between electronic and sung music demarcating the ‘chapters’ in the story. The electronic music, and in particular the use of low-frequency notes, helped provide the sense of an alien, unsettling, other-worldliness. As with many stories I find enjoyable, I was left with a bit of an enigma. What was that look she gave us right at the end, when holding the bowl/mirror and looking over her shoulder? Was she asking us to remember her, asking us to understand her tragic story, or showing us she no longer had the power to harm us? Flight Pattern I must confess to wimping out of this. I wish they had put this worthy, heavyweight piece first and finished the night with the lighter Wheeldon. It’s a measure of just how powerful and relevant this piece is that I managed to convince myself it made more sense to get home an hour or so earlier and see it at the encore screening rather than stay. A bit like the way I managed to convince myself that I’d buy a copy of The Big Issue from the seller outside of Pret next time I saw him… 😞 I’m sorry, Crystal Pite.
  2. The lovers may well have been star-crossed, but we had the good fortune to see both the matinee and evening performances of Romeo and Juliet yesterday (Saturday). And what a galaxy of ballet stars on offer! On paper, the afternoon cast looked as if it might shine more brightly, but for me it was one stellar performance in the evening that burned itself into my memories – but more of her later. First, here are a few of the highlights and observations across the two performances... Matthew Ball: I was going to say his playing of Tybalt as a disdainful, cocksure bully was a revelation, but in thinking back to his wonderfully socio/psychopathic portrayal of Rudolf in Mayerling, I shouldn’t be surprised. Either way, his presence on the stage demanded the audience’s attention, and also provided a sufficiently nasty villain to almost excuse the red mist that descended over Romeo to drive him to vengeful murder (and what a rage that was! His assault on Ball was so frenzied it managed to knock Ball’s sword from his hand early in the fight). Having said that, one thing did look slightly incongruous. In this performance, Tybalt pushing his way through two male bystanders with his sword hand extended almost exactly coincided with Mercutio being pushed away by Romeo towards that same spot, so Mercutio being impaled on that sword looked almost accidental. Itziar Mendizabal: If the phrase ‘pure MacMillan harlot’ is not a contradiction in terms, then I would say Itziar is the purest, most faithful harlot I’ve seen. Full-on, unapologetic lust-for-life, with everything refracted through the prism of casual, no-strings-attached sex. It might not be the ideal career one would wish one’s daughter to follow, but at least she seemed to have got her work-life balance right and was happy… Marcelino Sambé: His Mercutio was an adolescent full of vim, vigour and youthful swagger; it was a joy to behold, rendered as it was with both superb technique and acting. That he did this to the same high level in the afternoon and evening left me hugely impressed. Anna Rose O’Sullivan: She had the same, fairly minor role in both performances, but seeing her on stage with Sarah lamb in the evening caused me to think about similarities – the beautiful poise and grace hard-wired into their arms and legs; their striking looks, especially the eyes; their stage-presence. James Hay: For me, his wonderful Benvolio in the afternoon just edged out Ella’s in the evening. There seemed to be a huge twinkle in his eye as he barged into the various couples at the ball, nudging them into the wings and clearing the stage for the lovers. Tomas Mock: It must go against the grain for a performer deliberately to play a featureless, two-dimensional non-entity such as Paris. But Tomas did it so well I was left wondering why on earth Lord Capulet would even entertain the notion of foisting him onto his cherished daughter, yet alone try to force her to go through with it! Blood may be thicker than water, but I guess money or influence is thicker again? Thomas Whitehead: In the afternoon, Whitehead assumed his ‘exasperated paternalistic superior’ persona (most recently seen as the Professor in Frankenstein) to good effect as the Prince of Verona. In the evening he kept a little bit of this as Tybalt. In contrast to Ball’s thoroughly unlikable character, Whitehead seemed to moderate his nastiness with a measure of family honour/avuncular protection in the way he responded to Romeo’s interest in Juliet. So that brings me nicely to the difficult bit - Romeo and Juliet. The afternoon performance didn’t leave me ‘cold’ like RuthE, but neither did I see the ‘great chemistry’ that Sim did. It popped and fizzed in places, but to me it never became a self-sustaining fire – it never ‘caught’. The evening performance was much better, but again I didn’t get the impression it ‘caught’. I was moved, but not to tears. That left me really puzzled, for the talent on show (Hayward, Corrales, Lamb, Muntagirov) was stunning. I want to avoid being labelled a miserable git, so I’ve come up with the following to explain my (lack of) reaction... The title Romeo and Juliet suggests an equivalence between the two characters, or even that Romeo takes precedence. But to me there is a definite asymmetry in the (ballet) story – and that is in favour of Juliet (perhaps the ballet should be called Juliet and Romeo?). Romeo’s ‘narrative arc’ through the story is much shallower than Juliet’s. OK, he falls in love and ends up killing himself because he thinks he has lost her, but by the end of Act 2 he’s still getting into fights and cavorting with harlots (albeit more reservedly) – superficially, not a huge amount appears to have changed. Juliet, on the other hand, goes from childhood to womanhood; goes from the playroom to the nuptial bedroom; goes from innocent toys to potent draughts; goes from simplicity to complexity; goes from passivity to agency. Romeo may well be the catalyst for many of those changes; he may well be the engine that drives the story forward; but it’s Juliet who is on the most interesting journey. So, in terms of any ‘chemistry’ igniting between them, I need both their stories to build and resonate strongly – and the straightforward libretto does not give me that. That leaves ‘ignition’ to what might be called the ‘natural chemistry’ between pairs of dancers. For me (and it is personal!), Nunez and Muntagirov have it; Osipova and Muntagirov have it; Naghdi and Ball have it; Osipova and Hallberg have it - I would guess that Romeo and Juliet with any of those pairings would reduce me to tears (and I’m hoping that will happen on June 1st and 11th with Osipova/Hallberg and Naghdi/Ball!). But on the basis of yesterday’s performances, for me I’m not convinced either Hayward and Corrales or Lamb and Muntagirov have it. I think the reason I found yesterday evening’s performance so captivating and moving was down to Sarah Lamb. Her acting ability seems to have flourished in recent years, and I thought Act 3 yesterday evening was a masterclass in conveying the complex ebb and flow of her emotional journey (the sequences with her parents, her nurse and Paris in particular). She was perfect in the final scene; unlike other performances I have seen, when she first sees Romeo in the tomb she thinks he is sleeping and crosses over, smiling, to cradle him and kiss him. When she tastes the poison on his lips and realises he is dead, her plummet into outright horror is gut-wrenching. When she kills herself with the knife (having first desperately tried to drink poison from Romeo’s empty bottle) she convulses as the knife enters, and convulses when she hits the floor. She is a very special ballerina indeed.
  3. Wednesday’s Triple Bill – Opening Night In The Golden Hour: I was rather underwhelmed the first time I saw this a few years ago, so I was a bit surprised to find myself rather enjoying (most of) it on Wednesday evening. I had not heard any of Bosso’s music before, and was intrigued enough first time round to listen to it on Spotify (a lot of the music in the ballet comes from his album The Way of 1000 and One Comet). The first half of the ballet appealed to me the most as it contained more ensemble dancing, with the second half containing more duets; Wheeldon’s choreography for pairs doesn’t capture my attention particularly well, and I think part of the reason is that he tends to break up, in my view, the dancers’ ‘flow’ with his own brand of awkward (ugly?) moves (in that sense there is something McGregor-esque about Wheeldon’s choreography, though thankfully diluted to near-homeopathic levels). When this happens with a lot of dancers on stage, the effect is less intrusive compared to when it happens with just a pair. For example, what on earth is added to the overall effect of an otherwise engaging duet when Campbell lifts Lamb flat above his head and Lamb sticks her arms and legs up in the air in the pose of the dead mouse-king in the ABT Nutcracker? It grates – especially when Lamb’s character otherwise comes across as serenity personified (and no one does ’serene’ like Sarah Lamb!). The new costumes did not work for all the male dancers – the hairy legs and pale complexion of one of the male leads made for a rather unflattering contrast to the shimmering, pastel finish of his costume. Medusa: I found this a sufficiently fascinating piece to want to see it again, but perhaps that is more to do with Osipova taking the eponymous lead rather than the piece itself (I’m basically happy to watch anything with Osipova in over and over again - even when that was ‘Hanging Out With Sergei’ [© Quintus] in Project Polunin). She completely inhabits her roles, and when this is amplified though the choreography the effects can be devastating (Anastasia, Manon, Giselle, etc). In Medusa, the choreography was more cryptic and less familiar, but she still managed to make the story her own and convey terror, preternatural power, and loss and reflection. For the stage call she looked drained, emotional, overwhelmed, triumphant, happy – she had given it her all and was greeted by a deservedly rapturous reception. I don’t know if this is the choreographer’s first ‘narrative’ ballet, but the narrative thread seemed very understated, almost ‘flat’. In the programme notes he alludes to the difficulties inherent in presenting the core of the story – essentially the victim-blaming and punishment of the violated priestess. There is no room, therefore, for melodrama. Instead, the story is almost relayed to us in an unemotional, slow, steady, documentary style. We are left to digest the facts of the matter and draw our own conclusions. Correctly, there is also no room for anything graphic – the parallels with the modern world of a powerful male figure abusing a female ‘employee’ do not require it and, in fact, debar it. Instead, the terrorising of Medusa by Poseidon is highly abstract and stylised, almost ritualistic, and its impact increased by being played out with the slow inevitability of ‘bullet time’ in films. One particular sequence conveyed the totality of the power he held over her, and her helplessness to resist the abuse – Poseidon lying on the floor, legs vertical, with Medusa balanced on her side on his feet (one in her armpit, one on her hip); she with legs and arms outstretched; him slowly turning her. Another key moment that was dealt with non-sensationally was the decapitation of Medusa by Perseus. There was no sword-swinging or hacking; he approached Medusa, who was on the floor, with the scarf she had given him, placed it over her head, and pulled off the headdress/her head; she leaned back to put her head on the stage, hidden, and convulsed a bit while he took the ‘head’ back to present to Athena. There was nothing triumphant about him – he looked sad at having had to do it. Having mulled it over and consigned it to print, I think I’ve just convinced myself that the fairly low-key choreography and story-telling was deliberate. This is less a heroic tale of the defeat of a monster, and more a tragedy arising from the crass arrogance of god-like power. The staging supported the stark, documentary style of the story-telling well. Everything was bare and minimalistic, the only embellishments being the large brass dish-like vessels scattered around the stage - the lighting of which from above gave the impression they contained lit candles. The back-lit (stone?) pillars that descended for the middle section provided a more claustrophobic atmosphere for the ‘fight’ scenes between Medusa and the soldiers, amongst whom was Perseus (Matthew Ball). These fights, too, were highly stylised and played out in slow-motion; Medusa’s superhuman power was evident in the way she toyed with and then dispatched her soldier victims. Costume design was mostly effective. The non-mortals (Athena, Poseidon and Medusa) all had striking vertical lines drawn down their faces/bodies. Apart from Athena’s scarf, the only significant amount of colour was in Medusa’s Gorgon dress, with the lower half blood red. Her Gorgon headdress (a mass of thick, black, semi-opaque tendrils) pulled off the trick of simultaneously being rigid – so they didn’t just bounce around – but appearing to be in motion due to their coiled, translucent nature. One particular aspect of the staging was not convincing - the soldiers’ costumes (gauze-like jumpsuits) looked like they had been borrowed from The Unknown Soldier (though their face-masks – a means of hiding from Medusa’s gaze? – looked the part). Perhaps the most ‘dramatic’ aspect of the production was the music. A curious mix of Purcell songs and electronica, the result was a score that provided a kind of aural illumination of the on-stage events. It worked for me (though, thinking of another thread on ballet scores, it’s not one I’d want to sit down and listen to in isolation!). Perhaps it was the presence of the vocals, but I couldn't help thinking back to another ballet based on mythology – Diana and Actaeon from the Titian Metamorphosis trilogy in 2012. What a contrast between the two, with Diana and Actaeon played out for (melo)dramatic effect (complete with a ‘torn flesh’ costume) against the priapic, riot-of-colour backdrop by Chris Ofili. I would like to think there is room in the ROH’s pantheon of original work for both pieces. Flight Pattern: Wednesday’s performance was my first opportunity to see this work, and I’m looking forward to seeing it again next week. Triple bills tend to end with big, loud pieces that send the audience out happy, even if that’s briefly into the cold and rain on their way home to warmth and shelter. This is a different beast – an unrelentingly serious work that makes us appreciate our good fortune in having those welcoming destinations rather than just an interminable journey between one place and another. It starts very slowly, with a poorly-lit, huddled mass of people making slow progress across the stage. It’s one of the triumphs of this production that, over the course of the next half an hour, this swarm (to call out the dog-whistle vocabulary of certain politicians) resolves itself into what it really is - individuals united in their predicament, but with their own stories to tell and relationships to explore. Small movements by large numbers of dancers, and explosive movements by individual dancers (such as the angry despair portrayed by Sambé right at the end), combined with atmospheric lighting and the use of huge, black, mobile walls to ‘channel’ the refugees’ journey, are used to great effect throughout. A stand-out moment for me was the sight of one of the women (McNally?) cradling a swaddled ‘baby’ in her arms, only to turn around to unravel and drop an empty coat on the floor. After a brief duet with Sambé she picks the coat up and walks towards the back of the stage. One by one, other dancers put garments on her outstretched arms, until she collapses to the floor under the load; at this point, all the other dancers rush up behind her for support, helping her to carry on - very poignant, and speaking volumes about loss and suffering. My own personal interpretation of this episode was that it was not the death of her child being portrayed, but rather it was the thwarting of her dreams of a life in which she could have one; such is the unrelenting plight of the refugee that ‘ordinary’ things that might otherwise come to pass are denied and can only be imagined, and that realisation only adds to the suffering. As she made her way to the back of the stage, the weight of all those broken dreams overwhelmed her. Overall, very sobering and thought-provoking. Thank you, Crystal Pite.
  4. Last night’s She Persisted (Wednesday) was not only thoroughly enjoyable, but also excellent value for money; it’s advertised as a triple bill, but of course there’s also a bonus performance thrown in for free (which a lot of people end up missing in their rush for the bar or the loo) as well as an interesting bit of Grayson Perry artwork with a background theme which …err… stands out like a sore thumb once noticed. Broken Wings: This was my first time seeing this engaging, if slightly overlong, potted biography of Frida Kahlo. In hindsight, and in the light of comments in other posts in this thread, I’m glad I read through the background material in the programme. I had heard of Frida Kahlo, and was aware of some of her art, but without the programme I know I would have had problems understanding the on-stage action. At the other end of the spectrum to my ignorance, there were obviously people in the audience who were totally immersed in ‘Kahlo culture’ (one woman had a large, multi-coloured picture of Kahlo’s head on her upper back – exposed in all its impressive glory by a low-back print dress). That the performance managed to reach both ends of this spectrum (as far as I could tell from audience reaction) is testament to the skills of the creative team and dancers alike. Despite the hardships Frida endured (some of which were fairly graphically depicted) the story came across as a celebration - a celebration of the human spirit and what it can achieve in the face of adversity. The programme mentions her art style as being naïve, and in representing that style on stage in the form of animal avatars, lush tendrils and stylised skeletons, the overall performance came across more as a primary-colour, caricature-containing comic-strip rather than an in-depth consideration of an artistic life. That may well have been deliberate; for example, the role of the skeletons as ‘unseen forces’ in the background – observing, mediating and interfering in our affairs – reminded me of the ‘ghosts’ in Ghost Dances. But here they were cartoonish and ‘playful’ (when Frida slapped one on the wrist, all four of them shook their hand as if in pain; when four of them danced in line using a ladder as a prop, they seemed to be doing a playful parody of the cygnets in Swan Lake). In terms of individual performances, I was really impressed by Khaniukova as a dance-actress; she managed the not inconsiderable task of keeping my focus on her, even with the many colourful distractions occurring elsewhere on the stage. And when she was the central-focus in the ‘confines’ of one of the opened sides of the large cube that was the main prop, she turned that limited space into a world of its own. I was, however, really disappointed to hear, so soon after Don Q, more pointless on-stage shouting/dialogue during the performance ☹️. Nora: Well, if reading the programme helped increase my appreciation of Broken Wings, it was essential to my enjoyment of Nora. But that is not a bad thing: I would contend that some research/preparation is necessary to get the most out of any narrative ballet, given the limitations of the medium. So, I knew beforehand that a key part of the plot was that Nora had forged her father’s signature in order to secure a loan from Krogstad, and that this gradually becomes apparent within the play. But how to deal with this in the ballet (which is heavily stripped down in terms of characters)? It would have been fairly easy to put a brief paragraph (on the cast list, not even the programme) explaining the set-up, but instead of trusting/expecting the audience to behave as anything other than passive recipients of ‘entertainment’, a rather clumsy attempt was made to create a prologue in which recorded, competing voices were heard (yes, the spoken word again! ☹️ ) while Nora wrestled with her conscience(s) on stage. It suggested a lack of confidence by the creative team and frankly seemed a bit of a cop-out. Thankfully, the rest of the ballet overcame this faltering start, greatly helped by Glass’ Tirol Concerto. It was glorious to hear this Philip Glass composition being played live! Minimalist compositions like this fit dance so well: - the limited ‘musical palette’; the simple, quickly-familiar melodies; the repetition; the subtle changes between repetitions; the sudden shifts in ‘mood’; all seem to mirror and complement similar constraints within dance. Hats off to Stina Quagebeur for creating a choreography that was the perfect accompaniment to the music and which ‘narrated’ the stripped-down story so well. And Takahashi made a wonderfully expressive Nora – on the cusp between oppression and liberation. Similarly, Caley played her superficially-loving, but controlling and quick-to-anger husband with effortless ease. Making up the triangle was Dowden’s Krogstad – about whom not much needs to be said as he does very little. The incorporation of the five ‘voices’ that follow Takahashi around and help illustrate her internal struggles worked well. Dressed in silvery-grey, they reflected her traumatised psyche by having ‘slashes’ patched into their costumes (Takahashi’s costume also had stylised insets). Bonus performance!: The preparation of the stage for the Rite of Spring has become a performance in its own right – and it’s open to public view as the curtain is kept raised. Apparently, a view of the stage is also relayed to the TV screens in the bar/public areas (presumably to try to keep bar revenues flowing!), though there’s no substitute for ‘being there’! For those that haven’t seen it, a time-lapse video can be seen here - https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Rq4TJf8bstI Considering what the preparation is for, it’s ironic that the preparation itself has become a ritual – when the dozen or so stagehands line up at the front to rake the peat completely flat, the audience responds with enthusiastic applause and whistling! 😊 The Rite of Spring: The sense of anticipation of audience members around me was palpable as the start of the Rite approached – this is what most of them were here for! This is the second time I’ve seen this production at Sadlers Wells, and I was equally excited. Earth (OK, a special type of peat), men, women, life, death, music, movement, passion, nudity, fear, atavism, tribalism, mob psychology, sweat – what a primitive, raw, heady and effective mix! What an adrenaline-rush! What I noticed this time around was the degree of individuality shown by the women; each had a definite character they expressed when on their own, though they reverted to synchronised ‘mob behaviour’ at other times – is this something they are encouraged to develop themselves, or are there set characters they are asked to ‘play’? This individuality was much less apparent in the men, but there again the individual to be chosen was not one of them; they would not suffer! The one male that stands out, of course, is the ‘leader’ – in this case an implacable, solid James Streeter (complete with impressive beard!); he is just fabulous in everything he does! The one female that stands out, though we only know who towards the end, is the ‘chosen one’; Precious Adams gave a fine performance - though possibly too ‘balletic’ in places. But actually that is being overly-critical (much like Lorenz's ducklings, I think I was 'imprinted' by the first performance I saw, which featured Francesca Velicu)! Considering that the 'chosen' dancer has to drive the ballet to its conclusion - effectively on her own, and literally exposed to the audience - I have nothing but lasting admiration for whoever takes on this iconic role in this iconic ballet.😍
  5. Jan, I’ll see your three ‘loves’ and raise you two! 😊 I love, love, love, love, love this ballet! I am bowled over by every aspect of it – including its (deliberately, to me) cryptic staging. Having said that, there were two aspects to last night’s broadcast that disappointed. Firstly, there was no contextual introduction beyond a paltry voiceover - ‘a radical rethink of a much-loved classic’; without some scene-setting I would imagine that many new viewers (especially those not used to ballet, or those expecting tutus) may well have switched channel quite quickly. Secondly, the quality of the HD broadcast was variable – it became quite blotchy in dimly-lit scenes. Reassuringly, the Blu-ray itself is pin-sharp throughout (and even more detailed). I haven’t read many, if any, reviews of this Giselle by ‘professional critics’ as I’ve gradually lost faith in them over the years (too many errors, too sloppy, too extreme – all symptoms, perhaps, of the pressure for what might be called ‘clickbait copy’); I find the combined observations by the ‘amateurs’ on this forum (amateur only in the sense of not doing it for a living!) much more illuminating, considered, knowledgeable and – as a consequence – authoritative (and don’t forget to click the ‘like’ button if you agree with this!😛 ). But I was intrigued enough by JohnS’s post to have a look at the lengthy and detailed critic’s review provided as a link. So, here goes with a review of a review… Now, I know the lighting is fairly low at the end of Act 1, and there is supposed to be some ambiguity in how Giselle dies (an ambiguity that is then cleared up to terrifying effect in Act 2), but “The cast massed as the music became deafening, then silence and they dispersed: Albrecht was cradling Giselle’s lifeless body.” What?! At the end of Act 1 her body is cradled by Hilarion, not Albrecht, because (spoiler alert!) it’s Hilarion who has just murdered her! - the same Hilarion who is then forced to re-enact that killing in Act 2 to a) tell us how she died, b) to force him to confront his guilt, c) to convince Giselle she is actually dead, and d) to justify his execution by the Wilis. The reviewer’s next sentence suggests it was not a typo – so I’m afraid I paid scant attention from then on in as a lot of the tone of the overall review stems from similar confusion and lack of research/reflection (and time?). But here are a few points that could have been cleared up really easily before committing them to print, though that would have diluted the overall tone of the review (and no doubt reduced its clickability). “Hilarion forced the men to dance, and then the men and women danced with hands like antlers”. The hands were forming a stylised ‘crown’ – symbolising the power of the landlords/rulers. This is the same pose Albrecht struck earlier to try to tell Giselle he is of that class (OK, it was fleeting, but this is a ballet that I have certainly found requires, and rewards, attention and repeated viewing. It is a very subtle gesture in that respect – Myrtha uses the same pose, and also tries to get Giselle to bow to her, in Act 2; it seems even in the afterlife there is a class hierarchy manifesting as power and subservience!). “But the Landlord walked to center and – it was hard to tell depending on the angle of viewing – did he kiss Albrecht or did he just sniff him? Jokes aside, why?” He kissed him – to tell everyone else that Albrecht is one of the ‘landlords’ not the ‘workers’! It’s the Judas Kiss, the trigger for the tragedy that follows. Also, touching the face (with hands as well as lips) is a sign of intimacy in AK’s culture (I can’t remember if that was in the programme notes or the Giselle documentary that this was mentioned). It was a very significant moment – not a joke! Critics are supposed to do the work for the readers, not the other way around. “Khan treated pointe work as if he knew nothing about it but the stereotype of being on tiptoe.” Extended pointe work was used (very effectively) to signify inhabiting the world of the supernatural. Myrtha (and the Wilis) spend a lot of their time on pointe because they are supernatural (but they are not superhuman, so they do step back to the ground on occasion). Giselle, once she is ‘revived’, is standing flat-footed, as she is between one world and the other (she keeps looking to the back of the stage, back to ‘real’ life) and Myrtha tries to lift her onto pointe (ie become inducted into the Wilis – much like the rapid spins in the traditional Giselle). “Rojo got up and wandered to the music” This is Giselle struggling to make the transition to the afterlife of the Wilis - using the ‘pole’ to try to get onto pointe, and hefting it as if for balance, or as a weapon. For me, the music is distorted to reflect her struggle and disorientation. It is a brilliantly-realised passage (literally, from one world to the next). “All the women entered with poles;” Again, a little research would have cleared this up. Apparently, bamboo canes were used in early forms of weaving to separate the threads. The ‘poles’ are full of symbolism, tradition and history. The Wilis are a very old Order! “Hilarion cringed and when Giselle slammed into him, a hug turned into rape. It made the point, but it didn’t make sense. Not because the character wasn’t potentially violent or that sort of violence against women isn’t real, but Hilarion was surrounded, in danger and very aware of this. Just because something can happen doesn’t mean it should happen onstage. It was asking us to believe, in a production that had to cohere logically, that he was not just violent but stupid to Darwin Award level.” I literally don’t know where to start with this, but suffice to say he was re-enacting the murder (not the rape!) of Giselle he carried out earlier – for all the reasons stated above. It makes for terrifying viewing, and it makes terrifying sense. I’ll stop there. There are other points in the review I could address (including bits that I found significant but weren’t mentioned) but I’m getting tired writing about it (as, no doubt, are you in reading about it! 😊 ). The bottom line is that I think both types of ‘media’ mentioned above are doing this ballet a disservice by being sloppy in their approach to covering it – the BBC by just showing it ‘raw’, and in doing so risking putting off viewers; and the content of the review in the ‘online printed media’, the accuracy of which is at odds with the authority it presumes to adopt.
  6. I came out of last night’s Don Q feeling much as I did on Monday (with effectively the same cast) – thoroughly impressed by some exhilarating individual performances, but frustrated by the supporting framework within which those performances were presented. For me, a major gripe about this production has been the bland musical arrangement - the vibrancy apparent in other productions has been weakened, unnecessarily making more difficult the tasks of the choreography and dancers. Having said that, the music did seem a bit livelier than on Monday – and asking others about it, they felt so too. That did not, however, redeem it – the music still seemed ponderous in places, still had unnecessary ornament (the bit at the start of Act 2, which I always associate with La Bayadere, had the occasional drum-roll thrown in), and I’m sure the melody of the slow part of the Act 3 PDD has been tinkered with. These may well be legitimate things to do when re-orchestrating, but for me they added nothing and ended up just being irritating. Also irritating was all the on-stage shouting; OK, no doubt it is proper Spanish rather than ‘cod’, but it’s equally meaningless (I don’t speak Spanish, which is my problem, of course) and pointless either way. It’s an intrusive, distracting, tacky, ballet-inappropriate gimmick. How on earth can it be justified in the middle of the Act 3 PDD? The principals are on-stage, moving from one phase to the next, and the rest of the cast move as if to surround them, calling out. Quite frankly, I would rather have a mobile phone or two go off; not only would it be quieter, it would be accidental rather than deliberately planned! As on Monday, the individual dancers shone. Osipova seemed somewhat more, though perhaps not fully, ‘at ease’ this time around, and once again provided moments of sheer dance joy. Her solo in Act 2 was a masterclass in balance, and her accelerating Act 3 fouettés were brought to a halt instantly, nonchalantly and seemingly effortlessly (where does all that rotational energy actually go? She must be breaking at least one law of physics!). Muntagirov provided his customary massive leaps and dizzy spins, though a couple of turns were a bit off-axis (the two Act 1 lifts also seemed more precarious compared to the rock-steady holds on display on Monday). I was mightily impressed on Monday by Kaneko as the Queen of the Dryads, and I was even more impressed last night. She flowed through her moves slowly and smoothly, full of confidence in herself and her character. In fact, ‘confidence’ is probably the best word to sum up the attitudes and performances across the whole cast sheet last night. Here is a troupe with total (and fully justified) belief in their abilities, and I salute that confidence and the on-stage magic it engenders. But I’m still left with that nagging feeling that the whole would have been much greater than the sum of the individual parts if the dancers had been performing in a different production.
  7. I’ve seen quite a few crimes on the ROH stage recently. The orgy of killings in Frankenstein – a result on one man’s obsession with breathing life into dead tissue – should have been the most disturbing, but last night I saw what I can only describe as an act of vandalism, as the ‘creative’ (hah!) team behind the current production of Don Q conspired to suck the life out of a vibrant, joyful classic and spray-paint its corpse with pointless tags such as ‘three windmills!’ ‘moving houses!’ and ‘cod Spanish shouting!’. And this wasn’t the shock of the new. I saw, and heard, this production a couple of times during its first run, but I didn’t realise the extent to which I must have supressed those traumatic memories (though part of that trauma was, of course, Osipova’s awful fall 😢). Music is great at triggering memories and, unfortunately, they all came flooding back as the first strains of the overture struggled to escape from the orchestra pit. The music was weak, diluted, flat. Where was the vitality, the joie de vivre, the exuberance of, say, the ABT or Bolshoi arrangements? Don Q is, after all, an unapologetically happy celebration of love and life – and no-one dies! It was as if the musical landscape had been bulldozed flat – as if orchestrated for some ‘easy listening’ radio programme, or as late-night lounge music, or as 24/7 lift muzak. Maybe that’s why the creative team felt it necessary to try to add a bit of aural excitement by injecting, seemingly at the slightest excuse, various shouts, whistles, and ‘cod Spanish dialogue’. Call me old-fashioned, but the languages of ballet are movement and music, not cod Spanish. I’m really happy to hear the sly nod to opera in Mayerling, the voice of Virginia Woolf before the start of Woolf Works, and the scream in the last act of Anastasia, but I think the line should be drawn a long way before the vocalisations found in this Don Q (as well as that other recent offering, The Unknown Soldier). In terms of the staging, I guess at least I should be grateful there were no video projection effects (that would be like seeing the Queen wearing AirPods). The mechanical on-stage effects, though, added very little for no-doubt enormous cost. Why was it necessary to adopt some sort of Google ‘street view’, and shift the focus from one street to another, just for the entrance of Don Q? Why do we need three windmills, and mobile ones at that? I did, however, find Don Q's horse fittingly endearing; it looked like it came last in the auditions for War Horse and was on its way to the knacker's yard (hopefully taking the rest of the production with it...). It was great to see Muntagirov and Osipova dancing together again, and they looked like they were enjoying it as much as the audience. Muntagirov has a baseline level of ‘princliness’ that doesn’t quite fit the character of Basilio – but frankly who cares when he dances as well as he does? And he makes such a stable partner for the bundle of pure energy that is Osipova – you got the impression he could have held those one-handed lifts for minutes rather than seconds (and didn’t we all secretly wish that?). But even the considerable talents of this pair of superstars couldn’t salvage this dire production; I felt I was watching it for the bits I might see in a gala. But what a gala performance they put in! I lost count, but she must have completed close to 10 double and 15 single fouettés in the Act 3 PDD. And the speed at which she did it seemed to pull the orchestra out of its stupor (up to then, some of the PDD music had sounded more like a dirge rather than a celebration of love at a couple’s wedding). I was really impressed by Kaneko as the Queen of the Dryads in the dream scene in Act 2, and Gasparini made a fitting Amour. Along with Osipova and the corps, the dream scene was certainly the best sustained ensemble sequence of the evening. O’Sullivan seemed to be having a ball as one of Kitri’s friends. The look on her face when Basilio pushed her away as if so say ‘why would I like her?’ was absolutely priceless! Storm-Jensen ended up falling for the considerable charms (well, a big diamond ring) of Whitehead’s Gamache. She kept up the pretence during the curtain calls, proudly showing the ring off to the audience! I’m a massive fan of Osipova, Muntagirov and Don Q, so my head should be full of last night’s performance; but it isn’t. My favourite Don Qs are the ABT production (from the 80s, with Baryshnikov and Harvey; still available on DVD), the cinema broadcast by the Bolshoi in 2011 (with Osipova and Vasiliev) and the live performance by the Mikhailovsky in 2013 at the Coli (with Osipova and Vasiliev). Now, the Royal has Osipova in its ranks, and its male leads such as Muntagirov are wonderful. The breadth of talent across the rest of the company is also on a par with that of the ABT in the 80s. Given that overlap, I’m led to the inevitable conclusion that it’s the production that’s to blame for the empty space in my head.
  8. I went to opening night (Bonelli/Morera/Wang/Hay), Friday 15th (Dyer/Lamb/Hirano/Acri) and closing night (Bonelli/Morera/Kish/Hay) and I thought I’d try to make sense of my reactions to the performances - before this thread goes as cold as a dissecting-room cadaver... I thoroughly enjoyed all three performances, but the middle one (Dyer/Lamb/Hirano/Acri) affected me the most. I was buzzing as I left the ROH, and I got the impression that most of the (near capacity) audience were similarly affected. This was despite Dyer’s portrayal of Victor lacking the intensity, focus and definition of Bonelli’s, and Lamb’s acting skills not quite the match of Morera’s (though she has come on in leaps and bounds recently – I’m thinking of her superb Larisch in Mayerling last autumn). The reaction at the end of Act 3 was absolutely thunderous and, on reflection, I think this was down to the majority of the audience (including me) getting caught up in the story that had been gradually (OK, sometimes slowly) building to its climax. There were a couple of telling moments that suggested a lot of us were in there, ‘living’ that onstage drama. The blink-of-an-eye killing of Elizabeth by the creature (a violent spasm that was the culmination of a sustained terrorising that had been playing out, almost in slow motion, for several minutes - including what seemed like Sarah Lamb being swung around by her neck) triggered audible gasps and yelps from the audience around me. The suicide of Victor caused someone to shriek elsewhere in the auditorium – and it didn’t sound like it was just from surprise. I think Hirano must take much of the credit for this; indeed, his stage-call was met by a roar from the audience that was only matched by that for the orchestra (which played the dissonant, wonderfully atmospheric Liebermann score as well as I have ever heard it). Thinking back, the only audience reaction I can recall being louder (albeit considerably, foot-stompingly louder!) was for the Osipova/Vasiliev Flames of Paris. I had previously been impressed (at least by the end of the run) by Hirano’s portrayal of Rudolf in Mayerling – and there are possible parallels between the two. Both Rudolf and the Creature are extremely powerful (one politically and the other physically); both lack or have a warped morality; both are ‘outsiders’, having been rejected by those close to them; both crave acceptance/love; both find it difficult to control their pent-up emotions. Perhaps what gave that last act its power was the incredible dynamic and gulf between Hirano’s Creature and Lamb’s Elizabeth. Both were other-worldly, with the Creature as from the underworld (a manifestation of fearful, unbridled physical power, with Hirano’s stature and muscular frame ideal for the part) and Elizabeth as something heavenly (the character of Elizabeth is ‘pure’ and limitlessly loving, and Lamb just can’t help looking gorgeously ethereal). That contrast made the jeopardy of those last scenes even more pronounced and effective – the ballet equivalent of the peril of Fay Wray in the hands of King Kong. I ended up feeling sympathy towards Hirano’s Creature in the same way I felt sympathy for his Rudolf – he was as much a victim of society and a nature he could not control as he was the perpetrator of the deeds for which he was condemned.
  9. Sorry, JohnS, I should have picked up on your earlier posting about the filming. As far as the interplay between Victor and the creature at the end of Act 1 is concerned, I used to wonder why the ending was so abrupt – between the creature rising up and the end of the act is less than a minute! However, in the interim I got around to reading the book for the first time, and it’s very clear in the book that despite the sheer intellectual achievement of his obsessive pursuit of the secret of life through the reanimation of dead tissue, Victor’s response is not elation but instant repulsion – “I had worked hard for nearly two years, for the sole purpose of infusing life into an inanimate body. For this I had deprived myself of rest and health. I had desired it with an ardour that far exceeded moderation; but now that I had finished, the beauty of the dream vanished, and breathless horror and disgust filled my heart. Unable to endure the aspect of the being I had created, I rushed out of the room…” I then realised that Victor’s obsessive nature was subtly hinted at earlier by Scarlett – when he was both a child and an adult, Victor always smoothed out the cushion on the window seat if it had been stood on; a minor point that, to me, only makes sense in the light of the above. So, the ending of Act 1 becomes, rather cleverly, true to both the films and the book; the lightning-powered lab paraphernalia is true to Hollywood (as far as I remember, no ‘machinery’ is used by Victor in the book) and the abrupt repulsion and escape of the creature is true to the book (ok, fairly true - it's Victor who rushes from the room in the book). I’m left with the impression that Scarlett and his ‘creative team’ have put a huge amount of thought into crafting this wonderful theatrical and dance experience!
  10. From looking through the threads, it seems that Frankenstein is a ‘Marmite’ ballet; well, I’m not particularly keen on Marmite, but I loved Frankenstein the first time around. Although the ‘recipe’ has been tweaked slightly for this run, thankfully it still retains most of its original ingredients and flavour. This implies, of course, that the majority of those who dislike the ballet will find little in this production to change their minds. Here are some of the changes I noticed last night… Act 1 As with the last run, the ballet starts behind a scrim, with a young Elizabeth being rescued from a storm by members of the Frankenstein household emerging from their front door. In the original production there is then a fairly long interlude (with the subsiding storm being projected onto the scrim) while the stage is reconfigured. In this production we are kept ‘amused’ by the sight of the family moving from one side of the stage to the other, in front of the scrim, as if making the journey back to the house against the elements. This made little sense to me, as I thought they’d already gone the few yards back into the house (except for young Victor, who was intrigued by the lightning playing on the scrim); had they come back out looking for him? Victor’s mother, heavily pregnant and going into labour, sat down on the window seat in the original production, which is towards the rear of the stage. In the new production, she is seated on a chair towards the front left – much more visible to the audience. The cast sheet listed Mendizabal as Victor’s mother, but last night it was definitely not her. In the interval we tracked down one of the fabled and seldom-spotted cast-change sheets (I should have taken a photo as proof!) which listed Olivia Cowley instead. In the 'dissection lab' scene, Professor Thomas Whitehead was, as before, his wonderful, imperious self - though the ‘interaction’ between him and his female lab assistants has been toned right down: last night he tried, but failed, to kiss one of the assistants’ hand (she 'took control' and stopped him); in the original production he danced with all of them, and behaved in an overtly sexual way by kissing the inside of Beatriz’s hand (much to her disgust!). The #MeToo era has brought increasing awareness of how the asymmetric power relationships between students and staff can lead to sexual exploitation in academia, so removing that aspect from the production is to be welcomed. Also, Henry seemed to have more dancing in the lab scene (though that might just be down to James Hay’s amazing stage presence, projection and technical skill – he certainly seemed to raise the character to a new level). Act 2 The back of the stage (a rocky outcrop with trees) seemed more brightly lit than before, so it was much easier to see the creature observing (and reacting to) the other characters. Whether it was the better lighting, the dancer’s interpretation (Wei Wang was very good), or a change in the choreography, but the creature seemed much more prominent when in the background compared to the last run. The biggest change was the sequence of events leading up to Justine and Victor leaving the stage. In the original production (on DVD – my memory isn’t that good!), William receives a book as a birthday present from his father (unbeknownst to Victor); Victor presents William with his mother’s pendant; Elizabeth invites Justine to join in dancing with Victor and her friends; Justine’s mother is brought from the house by a jealous maid, confronts Justine, and Justine runs off stage; Victor notices William is reading a book, snatches it from him thinking it is his notebook, and apologises when he discovers his mistake and goes into the house, upset that he has upset William. If memory serves me right from last night, William is presented with a book from his father; Victor notices the book, snatches it from the boy, and makes amends for upsetting him by giving him the pendant; when they all clap William’s birthday, Elizabeth tries to get the brooding Victor to take part, but he storms off in a huff into the house; in response, to try to distract Elizabeth, Justine starts dancing (with her?); Justine’s mother notices this, tells her off, and Justine storms off in a huff. The only explanation I can come up with for these plot changes (apart from shortening the act slightly by removing much of the ensemble dancing) is to shift ‘blame’. In the original production Elizabeth is ‘to blame’ for Justine running off into the woods through inviting her to join in the dancing with her, Victor and her friends. In this production, Victor is ‘to blame’ because he is the one who upsets Elizabeth by storming off, which then triggers Justine’s fateful attempts to distract her. Act 3 The only thing in Act 3 that I don't recall from the original run was when, at one point during his fight with the creature, Victor appeared to try to take out the ‘stitches’ holding the creature together – death by disassembly!? So, not the major changes I had feared, but are they enough to explain why they are filming the production again in the next few weeks? They are not broadcasting it live in the cinema, so are they planning on releasing this 'new' version?
  11. We sat down this evening to watch the Blu-ray of ENB's AK Giselle that arrived in the post this weekend (with the sound turned up to 11, of course - this ballet deserves to be watched as if the ENB Phil was playing in all its glory about 10 yards away). As far as I'm concerned this ballet is a modern masterpiece and a future classic. And I'm pleased to say that the Blu-ray does it full justice. I was a bit worried, as the last ENB release we bought as a Blu-ray (Le Corsaire) was very disappointing; the image quality was surprisingly grainy and lacked resolution, so detail was lost, and there were too many motion artefacts creeping in (limbs momentarily 'disappearing', for example on spins). I'm sure part of the improvement is down to technological advances that have occurred in the interim, but the Giselle recording is pin-sharp in detail, with little or no graininess apparent (apart from the smoke that pervades the stage) even in the dimly-lit scenes; I could see the sweat on James Streeter's brow, and could see the strands of Stina Quagebeur's glorious, back-lit hair as floated back and forth as she breathed. The sound quality was also fantastic - from the shattering fog-horn blasts of the arrival of the Landlords, to the quiet of gentle static, and even to silence in the last PDD; the only part I felt didn't quite live up to its impact in the theatre was the staccato, machine-gun bass during the killing of Hilarion. But, to me, best of all was the editing. This is a difficult ballet to follow on first viewing in the theatre. It is not easy to distinguish and recognise all the characters (unless one is familiar with the dancers), and some important plot points (eg the Landlord's instructions to Hilarion at the end of Act 1) can easily be missed. However, the editing, with its judicious use of close-ups (something I'm not usually too fond of) helps convey those key moments beautifully. I've seen this production in the theatre many times, and in the cinema several, and I still picked up something this evening I had not noticed before - there is a brief attempt by Myrtha to get Giselle to bow her head to her (recapitulating a similar scene in Act 1). Of course, unlike recent Royal Ballet Blu-ray/DVD releases, which are essentially the linear broadcast stream sent to the cinemas, this performance was not broadcast live and would have been edited at leisure for eventual release in the cinema and on disc. However, this begs the question "why don't the Royal Ballet edit their recordings to best overall effect for release on disc rather than simply re-use the broadcast stream - with the odd replacement from the 'practice' performance - which by necessity reflects and is compromised by the limitations of being mixed 'live'?" I cannot imagine the ENB Giselle was edited/mixed as it was being performed - it's too good - which implies that every camera would have had a complete record of its view of the performance from which to construct the released version. I find it difficult to believe that the ROH could not operate the same way, and would only capture the actual mix/edit that went out on the night.
  12. 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! 🙂
  13. 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.
  14. 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).
  15. 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.
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