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  1. Hmm, can't seem to upload more than one pic, even in separate posts...☹️ Mods, please feel free to delete this post as it serves no useful function.
  2. I've always thought of Woking as the sort of place I'd need a jolly good reason to travel to - like if I lived there. Well, yesterday it turned out there was another, really worthwhile, reason to visit - the fund-raising gala Dancing for a Dream. This was organised by Laurretta Summerscales and Jonah Acosta to support specialist treatment in the States for a young relative, Dexter. The dancing couple had enlisted the help of many luminaries in the ballet world, and even boasted Wayne Sleep (dressed in a sparkily-lapelled suit - though I have no doubt he has suits that are even more sparkily!) acting as compere (and doing a brief, 'impromptu' dance number just before the cast all reappeared on stage at the end) - but I'm getting ahead of myself. Our arrival did nothing to dispel my pre-existing view of Woking. The theatre was to one side of a large complex of shops and a maze-like multi-storey car park. We finally got our bearings, got out of the maze and arrived at the grandly-titled The Ambassadors within the larger complex, which proudly boasted two theatres and four cinemas (which must be tiny, I thought). But what a revelation once inside the Tardis-like New Victoria Theatre! It's massive - seating over 1300 people. OK, it's all very 'functional' in terms of design, but the stage is big and deep, the auditorium is wide, and the seats are comfortable and spacious. The only thing I didn't like was the blue ceiling lighting which stayed on (for safety reasons? or to keep the whole place sterile?!) during the performance. From where we were sat I reckon the auditorium was about 80% full - really impressive. The evening started with a projected film covering Dexter's ongoing medical and developmental problems - all stemming from brain-damage suffered during a traumatic birth four years earlier. The determination of family, friends and community to support Dexter through his numerous, tragic setbacks was inspiring. Our hearts went out to him and them. Then on came Wayne Sleep to shake us out of any despair we might be feeling and to urge us to treat the evening as a 'party'; this was a fund-raising event for treatment that might help him live as normally as possible. And my oh my, what a brilliant show it turned out to be. Two one-hour segments, with a 20 min break in between. The music was mostly stock-recorded (though one piece was recorded by Gavin Sutherland on piano) but extremely well thought out and rehearsed:- this is in MARKED contrast to some of the, on paper, 'better' galas I've seen at the Coli, which have appeared hastily thrown together and probably rehearsed via face-time. It was clear in the introduction and programme (a mere £3 - why didn't they just charge £5 and be done with it?) that Dexter was supported not just by his relatives but also by the broader community. It was, therefore, entirely appropriate that four of the pieces were performed by an important component of the broader dancing community - pupils at various ballet schools. By appreciating their skills from a relative rather than absolute point of view, they were absolutely fantastic, uplifting and a credit to themselves and their teachers (I just marvelled at their ability to remember all those complex steps and patterns). And what a wonderful opportunity to gain experience performing in front of over a thousand enthusiastic people! Some of them seemed so young that by ten o'clock it must have been hours past their normal bedtime. But, regardless of our enthusiastic reception, we also wanted to see the 'stars' - and last night those stars shone strong and bright. Not everything in a gala is going to appeal equally to everyone, but even those pieces I enjoyed less were performed with consummate skill and dedicated effort. The Taming of the Shrew: Summerscales and Acosta. They danced and played this to good comic effect - with his patient perseverance gradually winning out and bringing to the fore a real sense of their mutual attraction. There followed something not listed in the programme. Introduced by Wayne Sleep as a 'surprise piece' it was called what sounded like Adjura and was danced by Oriel Gouneo (who was listed in the programme as doing the male variation in the later Le Corsaire, which he didn't then do). The music sounded like a guitar piece that gradually increased in temp and volume. He was dressed in what appeared to be a loose, orange outfit that resembled those worn for martial arts. The piece was full of pent-up energy, occasionally and powerfully released through spins and 'judo' poses. It was all very impressive and drew a huge cheer from the audience. I found myself thinking, in no particular order, of Flamenco, Bruce Lee and Guantanamo Bay. Manon Bedroom Scene PDD: McWhinney and Arrieta. A thoroughly enjoyable rendition of this classic PDD. As with the rest of the evening, a palpable sense they had rehearsed this together and were thoroughly at ease with each other (though, as with other recent performances at the ROH, that second arched lift towards the back right of the stage proved slightly problematic). Dying Swan: Javier Torres. This re-working of the classic was my least favourite piece. Twice as long as the original (with the first half dominated by sounds of a harsh wind blowing) the bare torso on display was impressive, but if anyone's going to mess with the original, I want it to be the Trocs! Le Corsaire: Khaniukova and Corrales. And speaking of bare torsos, you wait ages for one, then two come along one after the other! This show-stopper did its job in bringing the first part of the evening to a close. Corrales filled the stage with his speedy leaps, bounds and turns, and Khaniukova's fouettes were beautiful to behold. Again, it was just so obvious they were comfortable dancing this piece together, which allowed the quality to flow unimpeded. Tchaikovsky PDD: Yaoqian Shang and Mathais Dingman. I found myself thinking, if this show-stopper was being used to start the second part, where on earth were were going after that? They both really impressed, but perhaps what most impressed were his sequence of jump/spins, all of which he landed in perfect fifth. Oh joy! After the Rain: Kaneko and Clarke. A complete change of pace with this one - slow-motion, with nowhere to hide. But with Fumi and Reece, who needs to hide? She was just absolutely gorgeous, even when just stood there on stage. She had her hair loose - I didn't realise it was dark and so long! And when it came to dancing, they were perfect together; both graceful, both strong. She is a principal-in-waiting - which begs the question, why is she waiting?! Swan Lake: Delia Mathews and Brandon Lawrence. This slow, classical PDD perhaps suffered from following on from the captivating performance of Kaneko and Clarke, as I didn't feel there was much of a connection between them (although, technically, they carried the whole thing off very well). But, of course, it is a crowd-pleaser more so than the Wheeldon piece. No Mans Land: Begona Cao and Junor Souza. What an inspired decision to include this PDD on Remembrance Sunday! It definitely added poignancy to an othewise superbly-realised performance by the dancers. The sense of loss and longing, expressed through the woman imagining dancing with her dead/missing husband/fiance (with a confused sense of disjunction expressed by him) was impressive given it was excised from the whole ballet and presented without staging. This may have pipped some of the other strong contenders to be my favourite piece of the evening, and one that brought tears to the eyes. Don Quixote: Summerscales and Acosta. Another show-stopper to finish the evening. A bit like Le Corsaire, we were treated to some fabulous fouettes by Laurretta and startling spins by Yonah. He also did a couple of what looked like 540 kicks in martial arts (again, not sure what the proper term is) - the sort of thing Ivan Vasiliev used to casually drop into just about anything he did. All the dancers came out at the end - to thunderous applause. This became even louder when, to the surprise of just about everyone in the theatre, Dexter appeared on stage in a pushchair. He was full of energy and was obviously thoroughly enjoying the whole occasion. Wayne Sleep was also able to announce that the fund-raising target had been reached and Dexter would be travelling to the States in the new year for treatment. We all left on an understandable high (which Woking shopping centre then did its best to deflate in the log-jam of cars trying to get out through a painfully-slow pair of ticket barriers...). (I'll post some pics later)
  3. Having seen the Concerto Triple Bill at the ROH on bonfire night, we went to an encore screening of the broadcast yesterday to catch a glimpse of the on-stage fireworks from a different perspective. Unsurprisingly, it was as much as I remembered it - including that wonderful 'comedy sneeze' from an audience member in the silence just before the Sorokin emerged to conduct Concerto. If they do release the performance on DVD, I do hope they keep that in! (though they do tend to remove incongruences. For the Anastasia broadcast, my partner and I were literally the only ones in the auditorium to applaud when Osipova made her roller-skating entrance. When the DVD was finally released we were devastated to find our sole claim to immortality had been over-dubbed into oblivion with generic applause! ) I've been frustrated with the 'directing' of some of the past broadcasts (too much emphasis on 'tight' shots of torsos rather than dancing), but Ross MacGibbon has turned out some good ones recently - and yesterday's continued that welcome trend. I was really impressed with how the performance of Concerto came across in the cinema. The only time dismembered torsos dominated the screen was when the main dancers were standing still or walking. The sense of dancers (individual or in groups) interacting dynamically with the open spaces of the stage was clearly portrayed. I remember one shot (of literally the whole stage - breadth and height) where a large group was dancing, but tucked away in the left-hand corner of the screen. It gave a wonderful sense of what it was like to be there - of the opposite, yet harmonious relationship between the 'positive space' of the dancers and the 'negative space' of the colourful void that was the ROH stage. Even the very last bit of Concerto - after Hay and O'Sullivan have stepped back into view for one final lift, was shown in wide-shot. Brilliant! Of course, Concerto is abstract/neo-classical, so close-ups might be seen as less necessary than in a narrative ballet such as Enigma Variations. But I was really pleased with the balance struck in the broadcast of Enigma between showing the action on the stage and showing the expressions of the characters - very little 'dancing' was sacrificed to convey the narrative. This was my second viewing of Enigma (but of the same performance); I don't think it will turn out to be one of my favourite narrative ballets, but I did enjoy seeing it again - and the 'broadcast perspective' meant I did pick up on a couple of things I'd missed first time. At the ROH, I'd been so concentrating on the duet between Elgar and his wife (or, more likely, Morera and Saunders so demanded my attention) that I missed the cello player (his back to the audience) on the right of the stage! I hadn't realised that the Troyte variation starts and ends with him opening and closing the lid of a piano. I also liked the fact that Matthew Ball kept in character for the curtain-call - brusquely pulling down on his waistcoat. 🙂 The Nimrod variation showed something I hadn't noticed at the ROH (but something someone had alluded to in an earlier post?) - there seemed to be some sort of difference of opinion between Elgar and Jaeger, one that Elgar's wife sought (and succeeded) to reconcile. My concentration did slip in the cinema (or was inadvertently pushed) by the framing of a couple of brief shots. When the unmistakable Philip Mosely bent down to wipe his shoe, surrounded by youngsters, I couldn't help but think 'clog dance!' A shot of Lady Mary Lygon, with her fluttery 'wings', made me recall the end of Jerome Robbins' The Concert... For Act 3 of Raymonda, again, the cinema broadcast managed to avoid too many close ups - though there were enough to appreciate why @Mary had said 'Osipova was worth the price of admission alone- her expression during her stunning hand-clapping solo was priceless!' Something else that struck me was Osipova's impeccable timing; there was a bit about a minute into her solo where she pushes down one leg (no idea of the technical term!) in time to a single, low note struck on the piano - I got a real impression of her leg being the finger playing that note. Looking back over the posts, there were mixed views about the presenters. I thought Darcey's co-presenter did really well - she managed to convey a real sense of excitement at being 'back stage'. OK, it wasn't the most polished, but it had an enthusiastic sparkle to it that would otherwise get a bit lost in stuffy formality. The interviews - live and recorded - were really useful. Wayne Sleep was completely irrepressible (the presenters had to resort to naming Alfreda Thorogood at one point to stop him answering for her). We did learn that Wayne thinks the current crop of male dancers are superb - to the extent of reintroducing little touches in the GRS man/dog solo such as 'tail-wagging' during spins (though when it came to the broadcast it didn't seem as obvious as Wayne had suggested). The pre-recorded interviews were an unexpected joy. Osipova speaking, in English, in that wonderfully distinctive voice of hers. Muntagirov, who naturally has a boyish charm about him, seemingly shedding an additional ten years. He even managed to look younger than James Hay, who usually looks so young you would doubt he could even grow the full beard he was sporting! What a cast! What a broadcast! What a Christmas present a DVD of this would make... 🎄
  4. Last night's Triple Bill mix was a wonderful showcase for the strength and breadth of the Royal Ballet's repertoire and personnel. Covering abstract, narrative, and set-piece (with the emphasis on the 'set', which got its own round of applause), this feast for the eyes and ears had the added benefit of being beamed around the world - which can only have increased the global standing of the company. Kudos, Kevin O'Hare! I was surprised to find that two of the three pieces moved me to tears. To some extent I think I'd been primed for this, for last night should have been my third performance but turned out to be my first. The bug that's been going around kept me away, and since 'absence that makes the heart grow fonder' I went to the ROH really appreciating what an absolute privilege it is to be able to go there. I'm a huge fan of both Shostakovich and MacMillan, so putting the two together in Concerto was all but guaranteed to impress. And, boy, did the cast impress! Anna-Rose O'Sullivan and James Hay are simply made for each other, both physically and in their demeanour/style (I'm so looking forward to seeing them in Sleeping Beauty). She, in particular, simply oozes 'presence' (I've probably mentioned this before, but for me it's down to simple things like her always looking up and out at the audience). The light, playful mood of the first movement was beautifully portrayed by the pair of them, down to that last, momentary, cheeky 'curtain call' reappearance just before the lights go out. Shostakovich was a master of mood, and the second movement switches that mood to pure, aching beauty. The visual portrayal of this by Naghdi (ably abetted by the serene, effortless strength of Hirano and, of course, by MacMillan's choreography) reduced me to tears. Naghdi's physical and technical beauty is the personification of the classical ballerina, and the choreography resonates with that. There was a graceful, slender strength about her that seemed so perfect - yet so far beyond us mere mortals to render her isolated, even lonely - that it made me well up. With her beautiful, structurally-perfect, gravity-defying poses, she could be the ballet equivalent of triumphs of form and function such as the Millau Viaduct! The third movement saw Mayara Magri take unpartnered centre stage. That she demanded and commanded attention shows just how far she has come in recent years - yet another dancer whose stage-presence is improving. To all intents and purposes, last night's Enigma Variations could count as my first - since the last (and probably only) time I saw it previously was so long ago I can barely recall. The enthusiasm shown by others I spoke to before and after the performance - who have seen it many times over the years - plus my qualified enjoyment of it suggests I should persevere. I'm sure there is a lot more to glean from the piece, but at the moment there's a nagging thought that Ashton, in putting it together, was rather picking at low-hanging fruit given the 'leitmotifs' are already there. Each character has their own variation, and the music and the copious written analysis of the music fully describes those characters; it's 'simply' (to my simple mind, of course) a matter of transposing those to movement. However, there is a clever, recursive, self-referential feel to the narrative in that it's about the composer of the music being played waiting to hear about the performance of that same piece of music, surrounded by the people portrayed in the music. But the music may also be a curse as well as a gift. The 'curse' is that the music - and the consideration of each character represented by that music - is played out in a linear series of a dozen or so variations. There is not much room for narrative plot development: each variation/character takes centre stage, then fades to one degree or another into the background. The result is that the whole piece is a bit episodic, and the episodes are related less to the 'plot' (waiting for the telegram) and more to the music. I reconciled this on the night by thinking that maybe the characters were not actually present - that Elgar, while waiting for news about his composition, was reflecting on his music and the friends and relatives that inspired it. Most narrative ballets seek out music to describe characters and situations in a pre-defined story (eg Month in the County), or construct a narrative around pre-existing, but unconnected music (eg Anastasia); perhaps Ashton's achievement in Enigma Variations was managing to build any sort of narrative at all around such a uniquely-constrained piece of music. One thing that struck me about Enigma Variations, and which may account for some of its attraction, was just how thoroughly and quintessentially English it is. Ashton; Elgar; The Royal Ballet; the Victorian/Edwardian era staging; the eccentricity of the characters; the self-doubting, but determined Elgar; the foundational, selfless love of his wife; the supportive steadfastness (now there's an English word, if ever there was one! ) of Nimrod. And, yes, it was the 'conversation' between these three characters (to the Nimrod variation) that got my tears flowing - in particular Elgar's slow, shallow lift of his wife off the floor and to his side. Perhaps that's where the genius of this piece lies - in the little touches, the ones I will only see on repeated viewing. On a lighter note, I thought folk back then were better-mannered than they are nowadays? So why is the telegram (presumably addressed to Elgar) opened and shown to all and sundry, with Elgar being the last to know? I get told off if I open my partner's junk mail with the simple intention to recycle it! I enjoyed Raymonda (Act 3), but perhaps not as much as I thought I would. Yes, the staging was gorgeous (and was applauded), but I think it suffered from being excised from the full-length version (even though the plot in the full version is fairly insubstantial) - it didn't seem sufficiently self-contained to stand on its own merits. Some of the variations were extremely well done (Fumi Kaneko springs to the front of that queue, especially if that queue is labelled 'soon to be promoted to principal'). Muntagirov was his usual flowing self, and Osipova as the eponymous Raymonda did what any eponymous character should do and laid claim to the stage (as far as I'm concerned, when it comes to stage presence she's second to none). I think she absolutely revels in that sort of teasing, controlled exhibitionism. Like seeing a Lamborghini doing 70mph on the motorway, you not only have time to appreciate just what it is, but also to recognise just what it is capable of doing if let off the leash.
  5. This inference makes no sense to me. As written, Jeannette's observation that Osipiova dancing (in Pure Dance at Sadlers Wells) on the opening night of the Triple Bill at the ROH was the reason the 'creme-de-la-creme' cast from last night and the Nov 5th broadcast (which includes her) could not open the ROH series does not imply that Xandra Newman's earlier post, which did not mention specific dancers, had Osipova in mind. Osipova was the reason it couldn't happen, not the reason it should have happened.
  6. I wasn't sure what was being referenced here until I found an earlier post (Oct 2018) referring to a 'distinctly frosty' curtain call between Osipova and Shklyarov at their first Manon (though nothing about it was posted at the time of the April performances as far as I can see). Such frostiness is the polar opposite to my binocular-aided recollections (and the many pictures I snapped at the time). I think he was quite overcome by his debut performance (I remember he was so into that last PDD that he actually screamed at very end, rather than just mime it), so looking a bit drained and 'stunned' at times during the curtain calls was to be expected; but he kept touching her, holding her hand; he kissed her, he knelt on one knee and bowed low to the ground. She seemed equally 'hands on'. It was obvious to me there was a huge amount of mutual affection between them. The possibility I suggest is that they 'chose' each other because they really, really enjoy dancing together.
  7. Natalia Osipova: Pure Dance. Opening Night, Tuesday 22nd Oct, 2019 As I walked along Rosebery Ave towards the Sadlers Wells main entrance, I saw a man sat on the steps of one of the adjacent terraced houses, engrossed in his phone. It was only David Hallberg! I couldn't resist interrupting to say hello and talk briefly about Manon, but at least I managed to stop myself asking for a photo! For an opening night featuring two world-famous classical dancers and two amazing contemporary dancers, the fact the auditorium only seemed about two-thirds full was a bit disappointing. Perhaps this was partly because the majority of the dance pieces were those from last year; there was one new piece (Left behind) and one that had been extended (Six Years Later). The Leaves are Fading (Antony Tudor). I've never seen the original, but the programme notes say this is an arrangement of the main PDD. It provided a wonderful introductory showpiece for the partnership of Osipova and Hallberg - that they have a definite affinity for each other was left in no doubt. Their billowing, pastel pink/white costumes added to sense of fluidity in their movements. Left behind: This was an intriguing piece, choreographed by Kittelberger and danced by him and Osipova. As a contemporary piece, he was dressed in a green shirt and trousers, she in black pants and a long brown t-shirt. The music was Rachmaninov's Elegie. The only prop on stage was a regular door, set in a frame, placed to the left of centre and at an angle. This formed a physical and metaphorical device to separate the dancers from each other but also allow them to join each other, for the piece (according to the programme) deals with the lingering impact of people that are no longer there (and relationships that are over?). The choreography played to their respective strengths; Kittelberger doing a fair amount of floor-level moves and partnering Osipova with total confidence (at one point she leapt from her perch on top of the door into his arms), and Osipova repeatedly crossing the contemporary boundary by throwing in her signature classical spins. Like much contemporary dance, there was a lot of latitude for interpretation. As such, I was quite engaged by it, but didn't get that much from it - though for the upcoming Friday and Saturday performances I'm fairly confident it will grow on me. That confidence didn't extend to the next piece, Flutter. I've seen it a number of times now, and I remain rather flummoxed by it. In trying to 'get' something from a piece, I need something to grab hold of to help extract some sort of meaning. The programme notes suggest Flutter is an exploration of the unknown; that's fine by me, but successful exploration of the unknown means it then becomes known - this piece just seemed to remain 'unknown' (to me, at least). This may well have been deliberate, in which case the piece does have a meaning/message - albeit a frustrating one - that it's hard to understand things that lack substance/structure, though it's something we still try to do (there! I've just tried to do that myself! QED!). The unstructured/insubstantial nature of the piece was reflected in the costumes, choreography and music. The costumes were white, gauze-like, almost transparent shirts and trousers; they were hardly there (underwear, thankfully, was). The choreography gave the impression of frenetic, ad hoc, 'half-moves'; the main 'structure' to the choreography was the use of the dimly-lit back of the stage to 'hide', followed by Osipova and Jonathan Goddard running to the brightly-lit front. The music was mainly based around the sung/spoken word - in this case 'random' numbers - along with synthesiser. Perhaps this is what Philip Glass' Knee Play 3 ( https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PL9Rjn7EiRw ) would sound like after taking LSD? Well, as has happened to me before, trying to explain something has helped me understand it! I now think the chaotic, fractured, insubstantial nature of the piece is what it's all about. I guess the clue was in the name all along; the piece flitters and flutters along, defying attempts to pin it down. In fact, just like a butterfly, pinning it down will ruin it. I will now go to the next performance armed with a different viewpoint! As an aside, it was great to see Jonathan Goddard on stage with Osipova again, but he has such a distinctive look that I couldn't help but think back to the 'ferryman' sequence in The Mother.😱 After the interval, Hallberg did his solo piece - In Absentia. The staging is minimal but superbly effective. He is sat on a chair to the left, looking at what seems to be a TV between him and us. The light from the TV bathes him and cast a huge shadow of him on the back wall of the stage. When he gets up and moves around the stage, exploring and testing various ballet moves, his shadow acts in concert - growing and shrinking according to where he is. I always thought the piece was about his enforced absence from the stage due to injury, with him passing the time (unsatisfactorily) by watching TV and trying to both remember and look forward to returning to the stage. The programme notes suggest not, but I like the poignancy of my interpretation, so I'm sticking to it! If I see him on the street on Friday I will ask him! This was followed by Six Years Later, danced by Osipova and Kittelberger to the Moonlight Sonata and the old pop song Reflections of My Life. I really liked this piece when I saw it last year. It's supposedly about the relationship between two people six years after some sort of 'event' in their lives. It's a puzzle-piece that has no answer, but it has enough substance to hook one's imagination into. I just loved the bit where, in time to the music, they are facing each other, very close together, moving alternate shoulders, 'hitting' each other as they move around the stage. Is it an argument? Is it playful? Who knows? And does it really matter? That ambiguity extends to another interaction where Kittelberger is stood back, facing off to Osipova, talking at her, a smile on his face. But was it friendly or taunting? What was he saying? (and, yes, he was actually speaking) The ending last year only added to the ambiguity, to the lack of resolution. There is a lyric in Reflections of My Life that goes 'Feel I'm dying'; last year at that point the lights went out, the music stopped and the piece was over - very effective. This year, the song continued until the end and the piece segued into a song by Handel. This was accompanied by slower, more intimate choreography (with a lot of intertwined hands/arms) until the finish. Personally, I liked the version that finished abruptly, but that might change with repeated viewing. The penultimate piece was Osipova's solo, Ave Maria. This ended the show last year, and is perhaps the most personal piece I have seen her do. I have never seen her give a performance of anything where she has not tried to be 100% honest with herself, the piece itself or the audience. Here, to use the old football cliche, she is 110% 'honest'. For me, that's what makes her the superlative dance-actress she is. The final piece was Valse Triste, choregraphed by Ratmansky and danced by Osipova and Hallberg. Putting this at the end instead of Ave Maria worked for me. Solo pieces are fine, but dance is at its best when it explores relationships. That she has special professional and personal relationships with the other three men in the show adds an extra dimension. To bookend the evening with Osipova/Hallberg pieces underlined the special relationship they have, and I was overjoyed not only by their wonderful timing/musicality, but also when he did a huge and prolonged lift of Osipova over his head towards the end of Valse Triste - the very lift he was having problems with recently. When Osipova, Hallberg, Kittelberger and Goddard appeared at the end of the evening, they appeared as friends who had spent the evening in the company of other friends - us, the audience, who rightly gave them a rapturous reception.
  8. Yes - thanks! In searching round for a picture-link to illustrate, and despite reading their online paper for years, I foolishly took the Grauniad's 'Act 2' caption at face value!!
  9. Gartside as Gremin, please! I will be perfectly happy with Gary Avis, of course, but the Act 2 duet I saw between Osipova and Gartside during the last run is a good candidate for the most achingly beautiful thing I've seen at the ROH. https://www.theguardian.com/stage/gallery/2015/jan/27/natalia-osipova-in-onegin-royal-ballet-matthew-golding-in-pictures#img-4
  10. Like a well-cut diamond, truly great performances rely on different facets being skilfully cut and working in harmony. I've now seen all (as in 'both'!! ) of the Osipova/Hallberg/Hirano performances, and neither of them would I class as 'great' (though I'd have been very miffed to have missed either) as each was lacking in one area or another. As a reference point, the last truly great performance I saw was the final Osipova/Nunez/Muntagirov Bayadere a year ago. However, there were features of the two Manon performances that, if combined, would have gone quite a way to making a single 'great' performance, though I realise cherry-picking aspects in hindsight is ultimately a bit of a mug's game as performances happen in the take-it-or-leave-it here-and-now rather than the selective past. Compared to Tuesday, I thought last night's on-stage interaction between Ospiova and Hallberg was a lot more relaxed, natural and self-assured, though part of that impression might reflect that I was a lot more relaxed (on Tuesday I did fret about her welfare and, like others, breathed a huge sigh of relief when she got through unscathed). As a result, the chemistry of the characters' relationship was also more natural - something that came to the fore (rather perversely, given that it's an 'argument') in the 'bracelet' scene at the end of Act 2. For me, the highlight of Tuesday was Osipova's Act 2 solo, but last night it was their very first duet after she gets up from her chair once he has expressed his feelings for her; the blossoming of those mutual feelings and the exposition of that through their dance, when coupled with that beautiful music, conspired to make me well up and reach for my hanky. I'm still in two minds about just how fully-recovered Hallberg is. While the problematic lift of Osipova from him being on one knee was better last night than on Tuesday, it still looked a bit of a struggle. In addition, the two arching lifts (of her above his head, from behind, hands around the waist) that were so well done on Tuesday, barely seemed to register 45 degrees last night. Having said that, his line was as wonderful and elegant as ever - I can't wait to see the pair of them in Sleeping Beauty. It's a bit of a puzzle that despite their more confident on-stage partnership, the prevailing impression I got from last night's performance was that it was a little subdued compared to Tuesday. This even extended to Gary Avis; his Gaoler was not quite so repugnant in his behaviour towards the female deportees (though his abuse of Manon remained as utterly distressing as ever). It is possible, of course, that the problem lay with me - perhaps I had unrealistic expectations in terms of improvement over Tuesday's excellent performance? A few other 'random' points... I reckon (from observation, not experience, I hasten to add!) that the most difficult part of cheating at cards is hiding those extra aces. Having previously struggled to get them into (and out of) that small jacket pocket, Des Grieux decided last night just to shove them under his seated thigh. It didn't help, of course - thankfully (for the story) he still got found out! 🙂 The spot-on synchronisation/musicality I saw and heard time and time again on Tuesday was less evident last night. That was a real shame as I expected the second performance to be as good if not better on that score (sorry!). Act 3 deals with some of the most unedifying aspects of human behaviour - of man's inhumanity to (wo)man. As such, I can never bring myself to applaud any part of it until the final curtain; applause (even when restrained/hesitant) at the end of those first two scenes strikes me as inappropriate - and detracts from the intended effect. But overall, despite starting musically, and ending plotwise, on rather depressing notes, Manon remains my most thoroughly 'enjoyable' tragic ballet!
  11. I adore Manon and I adore Osipova, so when the two combine it probably amounts to love! And like someone in love (and possibly slightly blinded by it), I can find little or no fault with her performance last night; she lives Manon, she is Manon. She powers up a narrative arc that blasts off from a wide-eyed, innocent start to reach giddy heights (that Act 2 solo!!!) before crashing back to earth, life ebbing away, submerged (and literally submerged, last night!) in the miasma of the swamp. My feelings for Hallberg are more mixed. When he partners Osipova, I feel a bit like a parent worrying, perhaps needlessly, about their daughter's choice of boyfriend. Such a putative daughter might well be an adult, might like the boyfriend's company, and even be in love with him, but that wouldn't stop me worrying about whether or not he is 'good' or even 'the best' for her, or even if she'll end up getting hurt! Such were my feelings going to the ROH last night - happy for Osipova, but worried nevertheless. That worry was compounded when I had a déjà vu moment in the first bedroom PDD. When Osipova/Hallberg did the R&J balcony PDD at the Fonteyn Gala this year, he struggled to lift her, balanced on his shoulder, from him being down on one knee; that happened again last night. And there is a world of difference between a fumbled lift and an inherent deficiency. Muntagirov's fumbled lift of Lamb during opening night did not bother me in the slightest - his underlying strength could not be questioned. The effort required by Hallberg to lift Osipova last night really nagged at me - especially thinking ahead to Act 3! I was impressed by Hallberg's solos. His slender physique - no doubt coupled with my concern around fitness - gave him a sense of 'fragility'; here was someone who represented the best hope for Manon's future, yet did not possess the strength to overcome the forces ranged against the pair of them. I don't think I've seen a better Act 2 Manon than Osipova's performance last night... Her protracted balance, en pointe, at the end of her entrance was a balance in name only; it was the balance of a statue - her legs and feet were rock-steady. Her solo was a superbly-conveyed exploration of her burgeoning sensuality, epitomised by her fluid arms and shoulders as well as the way she swooped, dived and revelled in the attention of the fawning men carrying her around (a sequence I didn't realise featured in an earlier MacMillan ballet - House of Birds - until I saw it at the Steps Back in Time retrospective at the Barbican last year). The throws from one man to another were clinically and suitably abrupt, and the contrast between her luxuriating in the attention of her many admirers and the awkward encounters with Des Grieux was stark and spoke volumes. I was also struck by the musicality of both her and Hallberg. Slight discrepancies between music and movement detract from my enjoyment in the same way lip-sync issues do on TV. A couple of instances come to mind. First, her leap onto the bed when DG leaves at the end of the Act 1 bedroom PDD was millisecond-perfect, and the audience reacted accordingly. Second, during their solo in the brothel scene (when DG is pleading with her to come back to him) his fall to the ground, followed by him looking up and her turning abruptly around was, again, in perfect time with the music. When sight and sound combine so perfectly, the sum is greater than the parts and the emotional impact is enhanced. Her performance during the PDD at the end of Act 2 was also full of complex detail - from her obvious love for Des Grieux through to a mixture of playfulness and wilfulness when it came to the bracelet:- these were real people working out real issues. The Act 1 bedroom PDD seemed a little 'serious' in places - something I initially attributed to the pair of them concentrating on their dancing. I soon realised, however, that the abrupt switching from smiles and laughter to more serious, intense stares was the behaviour of two young lovers rejoicing in each other and then being overwhelmed by the implications of the intensity of their mutual feelings. Intense love is serious love! I'm so looking forward to Saturday evening so I can fall in love all over again.
  12. Manon is one of my all-time favourite ballets, so I was surprised to find it took a while to adjust (following the recent run of Akram Khan's Giselle) to seeing what was effectively a traditional ballet accompanied by a traditional score played at a traditional volume. There were a few other surprises as well... Sarah Lamb is one of my favourite dancers, and I was looking forward to seeing those most wonderfully expressive legs of hers in action. Instead, I became completely distracted by those of Muntagirov! Has he spent the summer in the gym? His legs have become a living anatomy lesson - not an ounce of fat, not a gentle curve to be seen, but rather a roll-call of pumped-up muscles primed for propulsion. If he'd stuck labels on his tights (Vastus Lateralis, Rectus Femoris, etc) we'd all have been educated as well as entertained! 🙂 And, boy, did those legs deliver! That first solo of his, expressing his feelings for the seated Manon, was absolutely sublime. It was pin-drop quiet in the audience, and it was pin-drop quiet on the stage (no 'thumps' on landing - just the odd squeak of the shoe on turning. Remarkable!). Those slow-motion turns, jumps and extensions were also distinguished by a complete absence of the merest wobble; those magnificent muscles were in complete control! Perhaps it was the confidence that comes with the mastery of movement, but Muntagirov seemed able to pay much more attention - to great effect - to his acting. He has a natural, 'princely' air, but his Des Grieux last night was unambiguously that of a more ordinary young man pitched into a passionate and ultimately deadly adventure. And if Muntagirov has been developing his physical strength, has Hirano been exercising his acting muscles? His Lescaut was impressive - an amoral chancer with love and loyalty measured only in monetary terms. When he did let his guard down in the 'drunk' scene, he did so superbly; it was controlled chaos, teetering right on the edge of catastrophic collapse, with great comic timing and effect throughout. He was ably abetted in this Mendizabal as his mistress - her expressions and behaviour during that scene were priceless. I was also really impressed by the sheer physicality of the argument/fight between Muntagirov's Des Grieux and Hirano's Lescaut at the end of Act 1. The way they channeled those angry emotions into expressive movement bodes well for the rest of the season. One thing I can say for certain - Christopher Saunders has not been polishing his shooting skills over the summer! 🙂 Poor Lescaut didn't drop dead when shot - he writhed around a bit on the floor in agony, blood pouring from his mouth and chest - before expiring. Very effective and quite gruesome. I thought Gary Avis' portrayal of The Gaoler had reached its peak (or should that be nadir?) a long time ago - but last night he seemed more loathsome than ever. The way he inspected the 'fresh meat' disembarking from the ship was disturbingly modern in its implication - trying to grab them in ways that men in positions of power still feel they are entitled to (and then to brag about). Maybe it's because the men were so expressive but, in contrast to other posters, I found Lamb's Manon surprisingly underwhelming. I'd previously commented on how I thought her acting had improved (notably in Mayerling), but last night she seemed a bit like a blank canvas over which watercolour shades briefly flitted. Her passivity (where was the revelling in, and projection of, her burgeoning sensuality in her Act 2 solo?) coupled with Muntagirov's superbly-emoting Des Grieux put my focus more on him rather than her. I want my heroes and heroines to go on heroic journeys; last night I felt Des Grieux put his soul into his journey, whereas Manon might well have sent her body but she didn't seem to send her soul.
  13. This run of Akram Khan's Giselle closed last night with another top-notch cast (Cojocaru as Giselle, Hernandez as Albrecht, Cirio as Hilarion, Brouwers as Bathilde, Quagebeur as Myrtha) delivering a similarly top-notch performance (which resulted in a sizeable proportion of the audience giving a standing ovation at the end). I've seen three casts during this run and it's testament to the breadth and depth of the company that not one of them really stands out any more than the others - I'd happily see any and all of them again (and again, etc). Having said that, for me the 'ownership' of a couple of the roles could be claimed by a couple of dancers - though the irony of promoting 'ownership' in the context of inequality highlighted by this very modern version of Giselle does not escape me! I'd already decided, like many others, that Quagebeur 'owns' Myrtha, but last night I decided that in my mind Brouwers 'owns' Bathilde; her demeanour of entitled arrogance - with her so obviously residing at the centre of her own self-centred universe - was perfectly conveyed by bare-minimal movement and expression. This came across in the way she responded to Giselle on finding out she was being 'two-timed'; actually, that is probably the wrong phrase, for it suggests Bathilde's view of Giselle was that of a rival in love. In fact, such was the imagined gulf between Bathilde's world and that of Giselle's, she seemed merely puzzled by and curious about this 'distraction' - Giselle was as much of a threat to her relationship with Albrecht as him getting a new pet or taking up a hobby. But nobody 'owns' the role of Giselle, Albrecht or Hilarion. Each cast member I've seen played them slightly differently, and each made beautiful sense as their stories unfolded. Last night, Hernandez played Albrecht as the youngest, most naively smitten of the three I saw. This is partly down to his looks (he was clean-shaven and tousle-haired) but it also came to the fore when he had to choose between Giselle and Bathilde. His conflict - between the person he loved and the parental pressure to 'come back to the fold' (exerted by a superb Junor Souza looming over him in that pivotal scene) - was conveyed in heart-rending fashion. His rejection of Giselle - pushing her in resigned acceptance to the floor - was rewarded by a paternal pat on the back by Souza. From her smiling face - which has the power to light up an auditorium almost like no other - to her albeit rather tatty pointe shoes*, Cojocaru is simply adorable. She deployed that 'look' to great effect last night; yes, her Giselle was strong-willed, but she was also the kindest, most tolerant and good-natured of the three I saw. She tried to understand and see the best in everything; even when Hilarion pestered her at the start of the first act, her response was less a repulsive push away and more a hand-waving, half-curious, smiling dismissal. Again, when Albrecht abandons her for Bathilde, she sat motionless on the ground (no attempt to crawl after Albrecht or grab his leg), trying to comprehend. I don't know if was Cojocaru or just my state of mind, but Act 2 really brought home just how difficult it was proving to get Giselle to make the transition from the 'real' to the 'spirit' world. Her 'induction' into the spirit world seemed to be proving more problematic than normal for Myrtha, and once Myrtha tried, unsuccessfully, to get Giselle to bow to her (drawing wonderful parallels with the attempt by Hilarion in Act 1 to get her to bow to Bathilde), and then oversaw Hilarion reenacting his murder of Giselle, I even entertained the idea that this was an opportunity seized on by Myrtha to get Giselle to accept the fact that she was dead, as well as getting Hilarion to face up to his actions and accept his punishment. That's part of the genius of ballet and of ballet dancers - we are given a coded, incomplete set of information and our imaginations are let loose to do the rest! Last night, Cirio's Hilarion seemed much more relaxed and 'natural' than the constantly-scheming, edgy fixer I recall seeing on opening night, and I thought this telling was as good if not better. I got a real sense of his real affection for Giselle and for the conflict between his emotional connection to this part of his 'working-class' background and his more status-driven ambitions in relation to the landlords. When Bathilde 'insults' Giselle by dropping the offered glove, his rush to intervene is initially protective and reflects his feelings for Giselle, but those feelings conflict with and do not override the other side of his nature when he then attempts to get her to bow to Bathilde. When Albrecht leaves Giselle for Bathilde, Cirio's offer to take his place has less the air of an opportunist and more of one who actually cares. In Act 2, his collapse into sorrow on being made to face up to his crime also garnered my sympathy - much as Saruhashi's did the previous week. Once again, the orchestra provided the pulsing, industrial-strength heartbeat to drive forward the action (though the speaker array popped a couple of times in a not-part-of-the-score, worrying way!). Gavin Sutherland received heartfelt thanks from Cojocaru, applause from the cast, and a thunderous reception from the audience as he skipped across the stage and blew a kiss to the orchestra. I love the score, I love the choreography, I love the dancers and their interpretations. I also love the fact that these sell-out, enthusiastically-received performances suggest it will be staged again sooner rather than later. * I quite like tatty pointe shoes. They are the ballet equivalent of F1 tyres - they are the focal point through which the forces generated by the sleek, powerful body above are transmitted to the unforgivingly-solid ground below to mediate the incredible, dynamic movement we all pay money to go to see. Theirs is a sacrificial role - they suffer so we can enjoy the spectacle!
  14. Saturday evening's performance featured Erina Takahashi as Giselle, Joseph Caley as Albrecht, Ken Saruhashi as Hilarion and Sarah Kundi as Myrtha. Although their interpretations inevitably differed from opening night (Rojo/Streeter/Cirio/Quagebeur), their combined effect was as devastating and moving - in no small part aided by the sheer motive power of that unique score, thankfully undiminished in its volume as it carried the plot careening forward (in fact, we noticed signs up in the foyer warning that the performance contained loud music and 'haze'!). I just love Takahashi's Giselle. She had an obvious love for life, and an obvious love for Albrecht, but her independent, strong-willed, steely core also shone through; the way she faced up to Quagebeur's Bathilde during the 'glove' scene - her jaw jutting forward in righteous defiance - spoke volumes in the quiet of that palpably tense interlude. And of course, the stronger something is, the more catastrophic is its failure when it is asked to bear too high a stress. Takahashi's mad scene was all the more hard-hitting for that - and that, in turn, was magnified in the reenactment in the second act. The way she forced Hilarion to confront the consequences of his actions was the most convincing I have seen - repeatedly holding her splayed hands out in front of her in a questioning, angry desperation, as if to say 'look at what your hands have wrought!' Takahashi was also superb in the final PDD. Although that PDD is obviously different in its choreography compared to the traditional version, Takahashi made crystal and shockingly clear one other major difference. In the traditional version, Giselle is an ethereal, gossamer-light spirit. In this modern version, her spirit has a much greater connection to the real world, to the extent it seems to possess her body; during the middle part of the PDD (the bit during which Albrecht lays her at the edge of the stage with her arm over the edge) Albrecht is dancing with a lifeless corpse - Giselle's spirit having temporarily lost contact and control. I thought Takahashi did this so well it was quite disturbing in its implications! Caley's Albrecht sported a beard - possibly to make him look a bit older? His partnering was pretty flawless, and his characterisation convincing. The forceful way he threw Giselle to the ground when choosing to rejoin Bathilde was quite shocking, and gave him a lot to do to try to win both her forgiveness and our sympathy. That he managed to do this in Act 2 is a credit to him. His redemption and freedom was complete just before the final curtain when the oppressive, irresistible, crushing march of the wall towards him was reversed on finding and retrieving the 'memento' of Giselle ( a thread; the thread of life?) from his back. I was also impressed by Saruhashi's Hilarion. Cirio's Hilarion on opening night was a scheming chancer, with feet firmly planted on the 'workers' side of the wall. Saruhashi seemed much more aligned to the 'landlords' side of the wall - his Hilarion assumed his privileged position less from aspiration and more from entitlement. His stand-out moment, for me, was in the second act when he was forced to confront the horror of his actions in Act 1, and to replay them; I almost felt sorry for him as he was led off-stage to his fate, as I felt that he felt remorse. Kundi's Myrtha, in isolation, was effective. But, unfortunately, in the majority of the performances I've seen, Quagebeur has played Myrtha and, as others have pointed out, she 'owns' the role. Quagebeur's Myrtha is a bristling, hissing warrior-queen, and the epitome of focussed, cold, remorseless revenge. In comparison, Kundi's portrayal was more regal and, as a consequence, less menacing. The impact of this production on me remains undiminished and has joined the small number of ballets that I feel I could never tire of. I am not alone in this; before the performance we were chatting to someone who is an extremely avid theatre-goer, who had gone to the opening night performance. They commented it was probably the best two hours they'd spent in a theatre - high praise indeed! This production really is a gift that keeps on giving!
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