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  1. With the AI (Artificial Intelligence) bandwagon gaining momentum, it was only a matter of time before it would be applied to choreography, and almost inevitable that it would involve Wayne McGregor (see https://www.dancemagazine.com/is-google-the-worlds-next-great-choreographer-2625652667.html). Well, the latest episode of BBC's technology programme, Click, featured a segment on his collaboration with Google's Arts and Culture Lab (it's about 9 mins into the episode at https://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/m0006bxp ). I'm not convinced it's anything more than a publicity stunt at the moment - the generated moves looked like most Wayne McGregor choreography I've seen. Rather worryingly, one of the dancers said the AI system didn't understand physics or take account of gravity when creating the movements! Now, real dancers dancing real choreography can certainly look as if they defy gravity, but I don't think any of them can actually ignore it!
  2. Ooops... hoisted by my own petard! I carefully inserted 'further info' links into the long post, including one for TLDR, but forgot to put one in the short post - the exact place it was needed for those for whom Too Long; Didn't Read would apply.
  3. Jonathan Goddard, Natalia Osipova, Frank Moon, Dave Price at the end of the London premiere of The Mother, June 20th, 2019.
  4. The Mother – Thu 20th and Friday 21st June Two warnings... Firstly, this is a very, very long post; for many, the reaction may well be TLDR. I can’t apologise for this because... a) parts of it don’t make sense without other parts, b) there have been limited performances of this new production so a fair amount of detail is required (that detail was gleaned from talking to others who attended as well as from my own memories – as such there will be mistakes!), and not all of what I regard as relevant is to be found in the reviews in the press and on the web, c) for those who didn’t see it, there is a level of detail that I can’t go below for my ramblings to have any chance of making any sense (if Symphony in C is a perfect Platonic solid, then The Mother is a messy Mandelbrot Set), d) for those who did see it, this post might stimulate recollections of their own experience and interpretations, which I’d love to see posted. Secondly, it contains loads of spoilers. My Experience in a Nutshell I went to the Thursday evening performance having already seen video from its premiere (and also from rehearsals) in the Force of Nature Natalia documentary; I knew the fairy-tale on which it was based in outline only, and did not read until afterwards the copious notes provided by the choreographer, producer, etc, (which in hindsight were really, really useful) in the glossily-produced, picture-rich, advert-lite and, consequently, rather pricey programme (£10 for 40 pages!). Part of me wishes I had done more preparation, and part of me thinks it might not have been that helpful; as with other deliberately ambiguous, fiercely challenging recent productions (Akram Khan’s Giselle is a prime example), I found this ‘narrative dance theatre’ piece (which is how Arthur Pita describes it) needed to be experienced more than once to really ‘get it’ (the nearest equivalent I can think of is the film The Usual Suspects; the first time my youngest son watched that with me, he immediately wanted to watch it again so he could experience it in a new, informed light – it would not have been possible to prepare him for the first viewing so that the second was unnecessary; that, I guess, is the ‘price’ of a good story). I came out of the first performance of The Mother with more questions than answers, and slightly let-down by what I thought was a ‘cheap’ resolution; however, throughout the second performance the mostly familiar vignettes unfolding on stage were building a narrative in my head that addressed almost all of those questions and caused me to well up by its apotheosis. The Set Imagine an empty, square stage as a giant pizza box, then place a giant pizza on it; then cut the pizza into three giant slices; then erect 3m high walls along the three cuts you have made; then remove (eat?) the pizza; then decorate the faces of the walls demarcating each of the three 'slices’ to resemble the grimy, decrepit interior of a flat from some 1960s-stock, hi-rise, hi-density housing – bedroom/nursery, kitchen and bathroom (complete with fixtures such as beds, baths, kitchen shelves, etc, as well as a door in each wall). The three walls can be rotated around their central axis like the spokes of a wheel to present to the audience each of these three scenes; the stage itself does not rotate. The action takes place in these three spaces, with the walls rotating to atmospheric lighting, stage smoke and music as appropriate. This arrangement does reduce the size of each set to less than a third of the full stage – even more so when the props (bed, bath, etc) are factored in – which limits the range of dancing but adds to the oppressive, claustrophobic atmosphere. Even though I went to sit in my seat some ten minutes before the start, the musicians were already playing background music, and Natalia Osipova was prowling around the ‘bedroom’ slice of scenery to which the stage was set. She looked pensive, restless, stressed and worried (Arthur Pita has used this device before – in the interval preceding Facada, Frank Moon sits on the stage playing a guitar-like instrument, while the mother-figure sits on a chair, full of pent-up, nervous energy). The Story Unfolds The performance proper began about 15 minutes later when the lights went down, the music increased in volume, and the nightmarish story played out as a gruesome sequence of encounters with various disturbing characters, all played by the only other cast member, Jonathan Goddard. Osipova is anxious because her baby is ill; its cries, which feature throughout the piece to galvanise The Mother into action (and, as a result their realism, also trigger responses in us), prompt her to call the doctor. Goddard arrives (with shadowed eyes like a modern-day Nosferatu), gives Osipova medicine to make her sleep, switches the baby in her arms for his rolled-up lab coat, and spirits the baby away. When she awakes and discovers her loss, she expresses her abject horror in what will become a recurring way – loud, crashing music and tornado spins across the stage (the geometry of the sets does rather limit the amount of space on which to dance). The baby’s cries are heard and draw Osipova through a door. The set rotates to the kitchen, where a figure dressed as a Russian peasant woman (a Babushka) stands, back to us, rocking her arms in time to the baby’s cries. Osipova enters on the other side of the room. The Babushka turns to show us her face (a silvered convex mask – nicknamed, to general hilarity, ‘Babushka Spoon’ in the Force of Nature documentary) and what she is cradling – an old radio playing baby cries. She re-tunes the radio; it plays the Russian national anthem, which she waves away dismissively in a rare moment of light-heartedness, and re-tunes it to another station playing music. In what will become an iconic part of this piece, Babushka and The Mother dance an increasingly frenetic series of traditional dances (in the fairy tale, she has to sing all her childhood songs); the music seems wonderfully folksy, as do the rapidly-executed steps. Osipova leaves the kitchen and finds the bedroom overgrown with flowers (in the fairy tale, Death is essentially a gardener, cultivating the plant-equivalent of each person until they are ready to ‘harvest’). In an explicitly gruesome scene, Goddard, dressed now as a woman in black (think Grayson Perry going to a funeral), dances Osipova along a bramble, cutting her feet, then places Osipova on her knees, arms out to each side, and tightly wraps a long bramble around her arms, waist and neck, and pressing them into her palms; this causes her to bleed all over her pale shift dress, and those bloodstains stay there for most of the rest of the performance; this is the start of her physical suffering (the ‘blood’, of course, is already on the brambles and simply transfers – but it is incredibly effective, especially with Osipova’s acting skills). A further gruesome episode then occurs in the bathroom. Goddard enters dressed in oilskin fisherman's gear (he is a blind boatman, with blood-stained surgical swabs over his eyes). He feels his way to Osipova, then feels her head and eyes. He wants her to give up her eyes in exchange for being taken on the next stage of her journey to find her child. He seats her in the bath, feels his way to the medicine cabinet, takes out a spoon, returns to the bath and proceeds to dig out her eyes. He fishes the eyes from inside the bath, puts them into his eye sockets and ‘looks’ at us for the first time. With his sight restored, he then places cotton swabs over Osipova’s wounds – she is now sightless. He then takes her on the next stage of the journey. Once alone again, she performs another solo, imagining and yearning for a (past or future?) lover’s physical touch (these solos also allow time for the other dancer to change costume). Goddard enters, dressed like Osipova in a blood-stained shift, but with long white hair instead of black. This white-haired witch covets Osipova’s black hair, and this desire to be like her is represented by them dancing together in a highly synchronised way – with nicely coordinated, jerky arm and leg movements. She gives up her black hair in exchange for the white hair of the witch and help on the next stage of her journey. The set revolves to show a spot-lit (stuffed!) fox on the bed, and carries on revolving to the kitchen. Osipova now dances a solo showing her sadness and desperation. She is at the nadir of her physical abasement – she is bloodied from the lacerations of brambles, and has had both her eyes and her hair removed. The set revolves to the bedroom. In place of the fox sat on the bed, there now sits a man dressed in a khaki/green army uniform. Osipova wanders around, encounters him, and the pair begin a brief courtship (at long last she smiles!) that ends with him in his underpants and them both in bed ; they draw the sheet over themselves and – thankfully! – the stage lighting is turned off. When the lights come up again, Osipova is asleep on the bed and the man (he must be the same man for he is in the same underpants – you notice these sorts of things!) is standing on his head on the floor, seemingly naked apart from his underpants; spilling out in front of him is a black cloth covered in sequins. He leaps up and we see the sequined cloth is actually the inside of an open matte black coat he is wearing, and his head is totally enclosed by a sequined, black, skin-tight hood. This, presumably, is Death himself. Osipova wakes up, and Death fishes from his pockets two eyes; he shows them to us, held in his open palms (reminiscent of the eyeless monster in Pan’s Labyrinth), and places them in Osipova’s eyeless sockets. She can now see again! She dances around some more; the music is more structured here, more insistent, and her dancing more purposeful – it felt at the time like things were starting to move towards some of conclusion. The next time we see her – in the bathroom – she has got her hair back (the last strands of the witch’s hair she plucks from her head and flushes down the loo!). The stage switches (to the kitchen?), and we see death (still with a sparkly, tight hood, but now in a skin-tight matte black body-suit) enter with a wheelbarrow full of small, similarly black, infant statues (Death tends a garden in the fairy story). He places these around the room. Osipova enters and visits each one, trying to identify the unique heartbeat of her child (the music has a background of different heartbeats at this point – very effective!). She finds hers, cradles it, but Death takes it from her and puts it back with the others. Death leads her to the bathroom, where he drags the bath centre-stage. I thought it was gruesome up to now, but the shock of what happens next caused some around me to gasp. Death fishes a very lifelike baby from the water in the bath and holds it, dripping, aloft. Is it alive or dead? Its limbs look like they have started to decay in places, but coughs and cries are heard. But Death convulses with that cough, as if he is making these sounds. He offers the baby to its Mother, and she cradles it; she seems to have come to the end of her long journey. After a while, Death demands and takes it back. Distraught, The Mother vents the emotion of losing her child in a frantic solo to crashing percussion. She climbs into the bath and thrashes around in the water. When she emerges from the bath, the dress has been cleansed of most of the blood. She takes the dead body back and calmly leaves the stage. The final scene takes place as did the first – in the nursery/bedroom. A very pregnant Osipova enters with colourful shopping bags. She happily takes from them items of baby clothing, and a cot blanket. She takes the blanket to the crib and sits down on the chair in the same repose as at the start of the performance; she falls asleep and the lights dim. The Performers Both Osipova and Goddard are on stage the vast majority of the time (and the piece is about 80 mins; 90 if her prelude is included). There are not many extended solos or duets, but some of the action is as explosive as a 100m sprint. It is an impressive feat of sustained acting/dancing. There is not a lot to say about Osipova’s performance other than she takes her usual approach of totally and utterly committing to it; while she was pacing around the stage before the start, I noticed through my binoculars that the areas around her knees were peppered with small bruises. Goddard was equally amazing: I’ve seen him in a number of contemporary dance pieces before, but never in one with such a strong narrative thread, and certainly not playing different characters – what a complete and utter, seemingly-boneless revelation he was! The music was trademark Frank Moon – lots of strings, synthesised background, discordant/skewed notes, sound effects, sung overlays, pounding bass/percussion – but I don’t think I’ve ever heard his music louder. It seemed a bit cacophonous the first time, but by the second performance I found my increasing appreciation of the narrative meant that it supported – and was supported by – the action on stage. The ‘Meaning’ of the Narrative Having completely enjoyed the spectacle of the first performance, and marvelled at the dance/acting skills of both Osipova and Goddard, my immediate, slightly disappointed reaction to the ending (one shared with a number of people I spoke to) was “Oh, so it was just a dream…”. As a ‘Deus ex Machina’ plot device, ‘the dream’ cop-out is getting a bit hackneyed. My disappointment also stemmed from the high regard in which I hold the ‘creative team’ – surely Pita/Osipova/Moon/Goddard wouldn’t fall at the last hurdle? So, I started to read the programme - and that crazy kaleidoscope of sound, light and movement I had just seen started to cohere into what, by the end of the second performance, became an artistic endeavour that was clever, complex and even profound. There is a page in the programme with a statement by the producer, Alexandrina Markov, in which she states (I paraphrase) that they did not set out to create a literal reading of the fairy tale, and that The Mother explores the deceptive forebodings, nightmares and paralysing fears that often accompany pregnancy; they also tried to move the finale as far as possible from the idea of death. For nine months a woman carries a whole universe, and one with an unpredictable future. This made me recognise that at least we can wake up from dreams/nightmares, but a pregnant woman's fears relate to the being she is carrying continuously for months on end, and for whom she has continuous responsibility for years afterwards; she can't just wake up from the reality of the pregnancy and the needs of the newborn, or the massive changes these have on her body and, partly in consequence, on her psyche. If the perfectly natural, incredibly strong maternal instinct to keep a child out of danger gets out of hand by imagining how such scenarios might progress in harmful ways, then surely those imaginings could spiral into a living nightmare? So, one reading of the on-stage action is that the final scene of a pregnant Osipova is a prelude– those self-reinforcing, imagined terrors have yet to kick in. The Russian connection is strong – Osipova’s background, the numerous supporters listed in the programme (including Roman Abramovich!), the Babushka, the traditional dances and music, the National Anthem playing on the radio, and even the fox. The setting of this tale in a Russian context is most likely to recognise Osipova – the dances with Babushka reflect steps from the childhood memories of Osipova (this was shown in the rehearsals in the documentary) which ties in with the theme of ancestral and cultural influence on our life stories referred to in one of the commentaries in the programme (in a neat touch, pictures in the programme of key personnel in the production also have pictures of them as infants with their mothers). The fox appears at least twice; firstly, on the bed before her encounter with the soldier, and secondly just before the final scene. In Russian culture, the fox is a trickster, and Death in one of the programme commentaries is referred to as tricking the mother. OK, so the fox on the bed is Death; and its appearance presages Death tricking The Mother into sleeping with him in the guise of the soldier. The significance of the last appearance of the fox, just before the pregnant mother appears, is more difficult to figure – who is the trickster represented by its presence? Could it be the choreographer? Has he been playing a trick on us, and what is that trick? Death, towards the end of the fairy tale, offers the mother two paths for her child’s future life story – one happy, one sad. Is the choreographer, mimicking the tricksy behaviour of Death, similarly offering us a choice as to how we see the story playing out? This idea is supported by something Markvo says in the programme – ‘It is important for us to let members of the audience decide for themselves where their unknown country is’. If so, the first interpretation mentioned above (the final scene as a prequel) is the ‘sad’ outcome – the horrors lie in The Mother’s future. A different, second reading is that the child did die, and that the pregnancy at the end happens subsequently. But in what way could this be the ‘happy’ outcome? My answer to that came to me in the latter part of the second performance, and it caused things to fall into place in such a way it raised the hairs on the back of my neck. In the first half of the performance, The Mother loses the child and literally tears herself apart in her asymmetric battle to get it back (Death is so much more powerful than we are); she is lacerated and bloodied; she loses her eyes; she loses her hair. Yet these injuries are gradually reversed – she starts to recover. Death gives her her eyes and sight back; she ends up with her own hair again; when she has to give her seemingly lifeless baby back to Death she dances a paroxysmal outpouring of grief and rage, but when she then gets in the bath and thrashes around, she gets out of it with the bloodstains washed away; she then takes the lifeless baby calmly and leaves through the door. To me, in this interpretation, the death of the child was real, and her whole gruesome journey represented her psychological battle to come to terms with a loss that was so profound it struck at the very heart of her psyche – motherhood – and was threatening to tear her apart. The initial suffering she incurs gradually heals and by the end she has recovered enough to face up to becoming pregnant again. In fact, the five stages of grief are all represented in the on-stage story - denial, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance – but this is still a ‘happy’ outcome because she attains acceptance and moves on with her life. Is Once Enough? I wonder how many people present on the first night went back to see it again on the second? I say this because although there were fewer people in the theatre on Friday compared to Thursday, the audience reaction seemed stronger – there were quite a number in the audience giving standing ovations. Were there a lot of repeat attendees who, like me, ‘got it’ on the second viewing? This begs the question, of course, as to whether we should need repeated viewings (and also thorough reading of an expensive programme) to get the most from a piece of dance theatre? If it means an experience as rewarding as the one I got on my second viewing, then my resounding answer is ‘yes!’ even though it ‘cost’ me twice as much. I’m happy to go back time and time again to Mayerling, Manon, La Bayadere, etc, not only because I love live ballet and like to see my favourite dancers, but also to increase my appreciation and enjoyment of each performance by understanding finer and finer nuances of the narrative (I’m sure there are members of this forum who get equal enjoyment from the finer technicalities of ballet steps). The Mother is not perfect, but I’d have gone back again in a breath for the Saturday matinee if circumstances had been different.
  5. As per the Trocs, "There will be changes..." (though I doubt if Vasiliev's absence will be explained by him going on "an errand of mercy to replace an ailing dancer of Les Grands Ballet Imperial de.... Milton Keynes")
  6. It’s curious that Rakitin’s jacket seem to be made from the same loud check fabric used for Beliaev’s (first) trousers. The most prosaic explanation is that the costume department got a job lot from the local market, but the conspiracy theorist in me wants it to be deliberate and meaningful. Is Ashton hinting that Natalia’s ideal man is part-Beliaev and part-Rakitin? You could combine the trousers and jacket to make a two-piece suit; could you similarly combine the two men to make a two-piece suitor? 🙄
  7. Thanks, @Geoff , for posting the link to the old recording of ‘Month’. And what a fascinating watch it was! It compares very favourably across the board with any of the three performances I saw in this current run; in fact, in some respects it seemed slightly better. About the only facet that I felt was below par compared to now was the role of Vera – it didn’t seem as sharply performed in places, for example where Vera charges around the stage ‘kicking out’ at Natalia. Perhaps the most impressive aspects is the sheer pace at which the action unfolds. I’m a bit of an inveterate clock-watcher, and I often make a mental note of lights down to curtain down. It’s been over a week now, but I’m pretty sure that Month came in at around 42 (the answer to a very famous question, which is why it stuck in my mind!). The old recording is under 40 mins. That’s roughly the difference between someone doing 30 instead of 32 fouettés which, I reckon, is definitely noticeable. To sustain that seemingly small increase over the whole performance is quite a feat of footwork and timing. And, yes, this ‘Italian’ version does look speeded up in places, so much so that I dug out on old, never watched, sub-VHS standard recording of the same performance (with English credits) for comparison – and they are the same. The comic aspects certainly benefit from the increased tempo, and are crisper in their execution as a result (and by necessity). There is a little bit of physical, silent-era movie comedy about it; and everything had more of an ‘everything happening in parallel’ feel to it than I remember from the recent run. Comedy is all about timing, and physical comedy adds speed and risk to that equation; it becomes more difficult to execute, but more rewarding when it works out - as it does here. Graham Fletcher’s Kolia was a complete bundle of youthful energy. His incredible technique in some of the spins and jumps made me think that some of his more ‘ragged’ moves were there to reflect the character he was playing rather than anything else. Others have drawn attention to Lynn Seymour’s upper body, but I was mesmerised by her feet. The way they fluttered and stuttered and flitted across the stage in those tiny, tiny steps spoke volumes of her inner feelings during those PDD with Beliaev. What a fabulous set of ballet dancing, acting and comic skills were on display in this compact, concentrated, filler-free, non-stop roller-coaster ride of a tragicomedy.
  8. I have to agree with just about everything @Mummykool says - though I'd also throw Gary Avis' Tybalt into the mix. The Osipova/Muntagirov/Nunez La Bayadere on 16th Nov was always likely to be special, but its ineffable perfection left me stunned. I'm glad that sort of performance doesn't come along too often as I'd risk getting habituated, so diminishing the 'hit'. In fact, I think I need the other extreme - the 'lows' - to keep me grounded by acting as a reference point against which to calibrate my sense of joy. That's my rather tenuous justification for shelling out to see the the dog's dinner and dog's breakfast productions that were The Unknown Soldier and Don Q (the former being so bad it probably doesn't even warrant the false hope implied by the label 'dinner' - it was just a dog's meal).
  9. Aye, it were tough back in the day getting banished from Verona and having to scavenge for food...
  10. If dance is painting with movement, then last night’s Romeo and Juliet was a technically brilliant trompe l’oeil – awe-inspiring in the fidelity of its representation – compared to a week ago last Saturday which was a masterpiece of impressionism – less emphasis on accuracy and more on conveying the emotional content to the viewer (for obvious reasons, Munch’s The Scream comes to mind). To my untrained eye, Juliet last night seemed step-perfect throughout; even when Romeo dropped her back down onto the crypt floor in despair, her lifeless body managed to fall and arrange itself ‘classically’! Truly impressive! It’s just that it seemed technique was constantly favoured over the impulse and abandonment that helps convey the emotional content of the piece. This was true (albeit to a lesser extent) with Romeo; unusually for us, we were sat in Stalls Circle and were hoping to catch the elevations we tend to miss from our usual viewpoint in the Amphi (the trade-off being a better view of the ensemble patterns from there). We were expecting Ball to pull out all the stops, but my overall impression was one of restraint and focus on execution. This was my first opportunity to see Naghdi/Ball in these roles, so I don’t know if this was typical of them or perhaps a response to the presence of the cameras; I think they are much too professional to be fazed by the increased size of the audience, so I’m left wondering if they avoided risk-taking because of the possibility of the recording being released on DVD – better to have a safe, controlled rendition of the ballet rather than a more risky, impulsive interpretation? And, for me, MacMillan cries out for spontaneity, for risk-taking. His is the gift of exploring the irrational, impulsive psychology of our desires, and the messy reality of the ways in which those are made manifest and realised – the tears, the sweat, the blood and the hormones coursing through it. At their best MacMillan’s narrative ballets eschew romantic ideals for the sweaty, dangerous reality of passion. Last Saturday week there was even real blood spilled; last night was beautiful to watch, but it seemed somewhat arid in its content. But something did blow me away last night – and that was Gary Avis’s Tybalt. His portrayal provided what I can only describe as a dramatic realignment of the whole story. I’ve previously mentioned that the ballet is so much about Juliet (especially in the hands of a dramatic Juliet) that it could be called Juliet and Romeo, or even just Juliet. This is because Romeo’s half of the story seems less engaging, for his ‘narrative arc’ is shallower and less well defined. As such, Act 2 (which hardly features Juliet) seems more of a plot device that happens to have some impressive dancing and fighting; it’s an interlude in the love story. That changed last night; Act 2 became all about Tybalt’s narrative arc, and in doing so it helped illuminate and flesh out that of Romeo’s as well. Looking back at the Tybalts I have seen in this run, Ball was arrogant and cruel, Whitehead seemed protective, and Hirano seemed to exude a knowing, entitled power. Avis was most like Whitehead, but magnified ten-fold. He was there to protect the integrity and honour of the family; he was quite happy to skirmish, but in the way that rutting stags might – designed to set boundaries of behaviour, respect and influence rather than inflict mortal harm. I don’t know how closely the camera followed him during Act 1, but his interactions with the rest of the cast in conveying this were amazing – a quick glance here, a frown there; it all added up. In Act 2 he arrives drunk, yes, but it was patently clear that the death of Mercutio (which was superbly realised by Zucchetti) was an accident, and one for which both Romeo and Tybalt were equally to blame. Tybalt was completely horrified by what his sword had done – it was not meant to be! If he could undo it, he would. So, when Romeo lost his rag and attacked Tybalt, Avis didn’t immediately double-down and attack back – he initially ran away from Romeo, fending him off with his sword behind him (he ran away not, I felt, from cowardice but from not wanting things to escalate further). When Romeo eventually killed him (the sword bent with the power of that thrust!) and the red mist lifted, Ball’s own horror at what he had done was greatly magnified– the tragedy represented by these twin deaths was painful in its intensity, and Romeo’s narrative arc was boosted to escape velocity as a result. In fact, Avis was so damn good that when we happened to run into an ex-dancer on the way to the tube I blurted out that on the basis of his performance the ballet should be renamed Romeo, Juliet, and the Tragedy of Tybalt. Last Saturday week contained the best Act 3 I have ever seen; last night contained the best Act 2 I have ever seen. It was a privilege to have been able to witness them.
  11. Well, Corrales was so good as the lead Hungarian Officer in Mayerling I had him down for all four in my 'dream cast'. So I reckon he could easily play all four princes in The Rose Adage as they don't have to jump around as much. It would certainly remove a lot of the jeopardy during Aurora's last balances - he could stand there all the time and just change his hat. I'm sure Aurora would be really grateful. Maybe Sambe could pass the hats to him and Hay take them away? (or the other way round depending on which is regarded as the principal role) Some of the other choreography might need to be tweaked, but I'm sure it would be worth it to get all three of them on stage. I'll write to Mr O'Hare first thing in the morning in case the Centenary comes around again sooner than expected.
  12. Force of Nature Natalia I saw this documentary at the Mayfair Curzon on Sunday afternoon. Firstly, and thankfully, there is no narration; secondly, it concentrates almost exclusively on her dancing rather than any easy sensationalism that might be constructed from, say, her prior relationships. Her story was built from archive footage from her youth; from rehearsals for and performances of La Bayadere, Mother, Medusa, I’m Fine and Flutter; from talking heads of critics and choreographers; and from extensive 'interview replies' (though we don't get to hear the questions) with Natalia herself. And - in an approach that has the glorious effect of directly connecting us to her - she speaks in English throughout (in places as fast as her fouettés!) with the occasional aside to Makarova in Russian during rehearsal for La Bayadere. Her voice-to-camera sessions provide a lot of insight, and she seems so natural and open; it looks like they take place in her room at the ROH (I assume she has one?) and it was fun looking at the artefacts surrounding her – a picture of her and Carlos Acosta, a Pure Dance poster from Sadlers Wells, etc. There were a couple of laugh-out-loud moments in the documentary (Makarova reacting to her strong grip) and moments when Natalia just broke down in fits of laughter. I timed the documentary at 85mins. Some of the footage was beyond incredible – in particular some of her performance in Mother (it really looked speeded up). I was looking forward to seeing it in a couple of weeks’ time – now I can hardly wait! Other parts were technically not so good – the footage of La Bayadere (which as far as I could tell was the cinema broadcast footage) looked like it had been filmed off the screen in the local cinema, it was that lacking in definition and proper exposure. This was followed by a Q&A session with Natalia Osipova herself and Gerald Fox, the film-maker, which went on for perhaps thirty minutes or so. For the majority of this she used a Russian translator. Here are some things I learned (apart from the fact that she is as glorious and gorgeous a creature in real life as she is on-stage)… - She prefers to be called Natasha rather than Natalia - She is quite self-conscious (I think this partly explains why she reverted to Russian for much of the Q&A session) - Gerald Fox quoted someone as saying she is an actor who can dance, which I think is very apposite - Someone asked is she was planning to bring Facada back to London and she said it was one of her favourites and she was trying to. (Hooray!) - The documentary clearly showed the extent to which she likes to experiment in modern/contemporary dance, so someone asked if that meant she might be moving away from classical. She emphatically said ‘no’ and received a round of spontaneous, grateful applause. (Phew!) - Someone asked if she had plans to move ‘geographically’, for example back to Russia. She said she was very happy here (company and location) and had no plans at all; again, a round of spontaneous and grateful applause! (Phew! Phew!) - Someone asked how she managed to fit in the schedule of intense performances she is known for, and she said that she knows when her body is approaching its limit and she just stops and puts up walls; she said one reason she manages it is because she does not train every single day - Someone asked how she learned the classic roles, and she effectively said she poured herself into existing characters (I read this as her 'inhabiting' a role rather than donning its persona/mannerisms) - Someone asked if she might start doing choreography (in the film it showed her ‘co-creating’ choreography with Kittelberger - and also to a lesser extent with Pita) but she laughed and said it was too difficult. I managed to speak to Gerald Fox after the screening. I was under the impression that SkyArts (the documentary was supported by them) was planning to air the documentary in June, but Gerald thought it was sometime in September. Worryingly, he said they would be showing a cut-down version that is 52 minutes long. Given that there was little or nothing in the documentary that I thought superfluous, this concerns me. Do they think the British public can't watch 85 minutes of one of the best and most exciting dancers in the world, but can watch endless hours of a violinist playing the same old stuff - just in different venues in different cities? Melvyn Bragg was at the showing (his daughter chaired the Q&A) and back in the day ITV was willing to broadcast a two-hour documentary made by him about MacMillan’s Mayerling! On the one hand I’m grateful to SkyArts for supporting this documentary (Gerald said that other sources he approached wanted something more akin to Black Swan), but on the other I feel strongly enough to write to SkyArts to ask them to broadcast the whole documentary as it was created and as it is meant to be seen.
  13. That the Royal Ballet kept a tight lid on the contents of this gala helped raise the levels of excitement and anticipation as the evening approached, and it was fun speculating about what would be on, who would be dancing what, and even how exorbitant the price of the programme would be. The Rose Adage was a dead cert, so no points were up for grabs for suggesting that – similarly Le Corsaire. But a lot of what did appear in the running order (handed out as we entered the ROH) hadn’t even featured in our speculations, so the evening turned out to be an interestingly varied mix. Having scanned the running order several times to find out what was on, it gradually sank in that the first offering, The Firebird, listed the whole cast and was immediately followed by an interval. To find they were doing the whole ballet was, to say the least, a bit surprising – a bit like going up to a buffet lunch only to find it dominated by a single, giant dish; with the rest of the food relegated to necessarily smaller portions. To stretch the analogy a bit further, if the buffet was to celebrate, say, seafood, then that giant dish was a risotto with a few prawns scattered amongst kilograms of rice – The Firebird might well have been an iconic role for Fonteyn, but The Firebird herself is only on stage for a fraction of the time, and some of that is just posing. It was also a shame that the rest of the programme was crammed into a marathon, interval-less 85-minute session – it’s always nice to be able to seek out regulars during the intervals to learnedly discuss/point-score/name-drop/opine/natter/gossip/bitch (delete as appropriate) about what was just seen. It all seemed a bit unbalanced - though I can see the justification; there has been a lot on the forum about the huge workload and variety within the RB at the moment, so presenting a complete ballet that is currently being performed makes sense from that perspective. It also allowed much of the corps to be showcased as well. Having guessed at anywhere between £12 and £15 for the programme, we were pleasantly surprised to find that it was ‘only’ £10; a quick flick through suggested it might actually be relatively good value as it seemed crammed full of articles (that we immediately put it away to read at a later date). I have a fool-proof way of knowing if I’m at a gala. If the director appears on stage and is applauded, then it’s a gala. For any other performance, his/her appearance will be greeted by hushed groans carrying silent pleas of “Oh no, I hope it’s not <<insert favourite dancer’s name here>> who is injured!” The Firebird This was the second time I’d seen this cast (Mendizabal as the Firebird, Kish as Ivan, and Saunders as Kostchei) and I enjoyed it more than the first time. What I can’t figure out is why; was it the occasion? Did the cast perform better? Was it because the first time I saw this cast was the day after seeing Naghdi as Firebird and – in particular – Avis as Kostchei? Was it because my appreciation was increasing with repeated viewing – what might be called ‘familiarity breeds content’? There are just too many variables! The ballet itself becomes stranger and more fascinating with each viewing. In the final scene, I had previously made a mental note that the ‘golden cushion’ supporting the silver box (presented to Tsarevna) resembled a loaf of bread – only to find out since that is exactly what it is (and the box contains salt)! Isn’t folklore wonderful! 😊 And I think I’m becoming enchanted by the Enchanted Princesses – they find so much happiness in the most trivial of things. Are they in some Zen-like state of bliss or just blissfully ignorant of the realities underpinning their magical world? They do seem to be improving their hand-eye coordination though – only two dropped apples! And I just love the way they arrange themselves on stage – with the Tsarevna sat upright, with two princesses sat either side with heads on her shoulders, then two more against them – slightly more prone – until the last two are lying with their heads in the laps of the previous two. They form a continuous, rising and falling distribution of princesses that is the spitting image (the only type of spitting that should be in this ballet!) of a Bell Curve. Sorry, I can’t resist this – make that a Belle Curve! The tableau at the end continues to impress in its majestic scope – we did a quick head-count and came to a total of 96 (making 97 when Kostchei appears for the stage call). This ballet may be ‘of its time’, but I wouldn’t want it any other way. In fact, it really couldn’t be any other way - like Kostchei’s egg, mess around with it and the spell will be broken. The Rose Adage Yes, it had to be there; and, yes, it had to be Nunez; and, yes, she was technically superb (not a quiver to be seen). I guess the problem with this sort of gala is that they give you breadth but little depth, as the individual elements (with the exception being the Firebird) are fragments that are, at best, only semi-staged. Without the contextual foundation of the complete production they tend to float free. That’s fine, of course, as these fragments act to build the larger picture that the gala is there to illustrate – in this case a Celebration of Margot Fonteyn. But it meant that we didn’t really have Aurora on stage – we had Marianela Nunez showing us The Rose Adage. Technically superb, but necessarily lacking in the emotional impact it would have had within the full ballet. Basically, we can’t have it both ways! Nocturne/The Wise Virgins I was just settling into each of these (neither of which I’m familiar with) when they finished! I felt a bit sorry for both Stix-Brunell and Pajdak… Birthday Offering This was a bright (yellow), light and breezy piece. Kaneko did a solo variation – fairly well, though her technique seemed to drift a bit towards the end – and this was followed by a PDD with Lamb/Hirano. Their PDD was probably the highlight of the night for me - partly because it’s a piece I had not seen before, but mainly because of Sarah Lamb’s absolute mastery of poise as she stood on pointe and Hirano transferred support from one side to the other. Some of my praise must go to Hirano. Every time he provided Lamb with support, he gave it with millimetre and millisecond precision; he must inspire complete confidence and trust in his partners. It was a joy to behold. Ondine It might be difficult to relay the full depth of characterisation outside of a full production, but Hayward did a really good job of conveying the excited curiosity of the water-nymph playing with her shadow. And it was so good to see Ed Watson take to the stage yet again. Sylvia The famous entrance scene from Act 1 is always fun to watch (and hear). I can never take Sylvia and Co too seriously as ‘huntresses’ when their bows are powered by elastic bands, and I don’t think Magri did either, as she didn’t seem totally committed to playing Sylvia as the ‘amazon’ she normally is in Act 1. But, there again, it is a gala. Daphnis and Chloe O’Sullivan was full of her usual brio – she really does have ‘presence’! With Campbell as Daphnis they made for a great pairing. That’s two consecutive performances I’ve been impressed with Campbell, and on both occasions he’s come across more as the character than himself; I don’t know if that’s coincidental. There was a slight ‘wardrobe malfunction’ when the end of his belt broke free from its mooring in one of the belt loops of his trousers and from certain angles made it look like he was very, very pleased to see Chloe! Thankfully, he soon managed to tuck it back again when he went to pick up his flute. Romeo and Juliet With their June 1st performance still seared into my memory, this out-of-context reprise of the balcony scene was never going to reach the giddy heights of that performance (literally, as the balcony was just a flight of steps about five foot high!). Nevertheless, both Osipova and Hallberg acted the scene rather than danced it. Understandably, he seemed to have more energy as he didn’t need to pace himself as for a full-length ballet, but he still appeared to be under par when it came to lifting (one overhead lift didn’t make it past his shoulders). Façade Both Darcey Bussell and Gary Avis can play to the gallery all day and every day; give them a vehicle like this tango, and sparks will fly and bling will sparkle! She came on to a roar, and they played off and vied with each other in a battle to win the attention of the audience. We fell for it hook, line and sinker. Who won? Let’s be discreet and call it a draw… Le Corsaire I thought they might have ended with this showstopper. Muntagirov was hugely impressive, and he did it all with such consummate ease that I was left thinking he could just have been doing a quick rehearsal. Naghdi was her usual radiant, impressive self, though as others have noted she did seem to go off on a bit of a ‘random walk’ during the fouettés. Audience reaction, unsurprisingly, was explosive. Apparitions Cuthbertson and Ball (both in essentially black costumes) contrasted against the very colourful, very full dresses worn by the other female dancers; these looked fantastic when they were spinning – opening out into circles that appeared to be about eight feet in diameter. I didn’t see it go, but a fan ended up lying on the left of the stage; during one move in that direction, Ball deftly kicked it, and it skittered into the wings – all in time to the music! Perhaps they chose to end with this ballet for being colourful rather than sensational, particularly as the evening actually closed quietly and much more poignantly with a film of Fonteyn dancing Salut d’amour. I know we don't live in an ideal world, but for me the ideal gala would have... Started at the usual Saturday time of 7pm and had a second interval. Included Sambe, Hay and Corrales. Pared the Firebird down to her solo/PDD, so leaving enough time to finish with the whole of Marguerite and Armand. It was, nevertheless, a truly fabulous evening!
  14. Friday noon Triple Bill This was my third triple bill and, unfortunately, my last. Symphony in C I think I'd already hit peak Symphony in C on first viewing. The link between the music and choreography is so clear and defined, and the casts so strong that it's difficult to imagine how it could improve with repeated viewings. Small differences in enjoyment still arose as a result of the different permutations of casts. For me, highlights were Kaneko in the first movement (along with Sissens in a supporting role), Lamb in the second movement, and Hay in the fourth. Campbell's ‘showboating’ - evident on Wednesday - was not apparent today; as a consequence he was better, his partnering was better, the movement was better and the ballet was better – less definitely can be more! The Firebird I enjoyed this performance more than the other two I’d seen, even though Marriott’s Kostchei didn't match the outlandish stage presence of Avis' (especially when it came to finger waggling and jabbing). Hirano's Ivan took the middle road between Kish’s rather unconvincing 'bank manager off for an adventure weekend' approach and the rather stroppy 'lads night out’ approach of Watson. Hirano's authority was blended with kindness, curiosity and benevolence. Which is why I found it even more incongruous and jarring than usual when he spat at Kostchei: I really don't think this belongs in this ballet, any more than it belongs, say, in football punditry. I thought Magri gave a beautifully nuanced interpretation of the Firebird. Her movements were less darting and more fluid than either Mendizabal or Naghdi: she was more 'flappy bird' than 'pecky bird'. She also used her facial expressions to help convey the feelings expressed through the rest of her body. She was much more human - less of an otherwise alien creature - and I found I could relate to her more readily because of that. I don't know if this approach is non-traditional, but it worked for me. I just loved the set-piece, tableau scenes. The enchanted princesses sat on the floor, lying against each other. The Busby Berkeley-like synchronised movements of arms whilst on the floor. And the final tableau with the stage crammed full with the court. I tried to do a quick head count and thought there must be something approaching one hundred bodies on stage; does anyone know? I started to feel quite moved by the beauty of the ballet by the end. The problem is I don't know if it was this particular cast or the fact that, on my third viewing, I am continuing to learn and appreciate what an amazing piece of dance theatre it is. A Month in the Country I was silently (I hope!) blubbing by the end of this. Yes, part of that was down to my increasing appreciation of the subtleties of the plot, but the major reason is Osipova's (and Hallberg's) ability to relay these to me; to turn what I initially considered a melodrama into a drama. Their rendition was heart-rending. Every fibre of her body, every movement was employed to expose her inner life to external scrutiny. And when someone opens up that way, it's difficult to resist getting swept along. Hallberg deserves special mention. I thought his Beliaev was beautifully observed; at heart he was a kind soul, and who can blame him for letting his heart rule his head? Now, someone who went along to see a Russian play will obviously be disappointed, and someone who went along to see the epitome of an Englishman's balletic interpretation of a Russian play might not have thought it sufficiently accurate; but I went along to see a Russian dancer’s rendition of an Englishman's balletic interpretation of a Russian play. That's what I wanted, that's what I was given, and that's why I ended up blubbing.
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