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Everything posted by Nogoat

  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.
  15. Tuesday & Wednesday Triple Bill On paper this looked like an interesting and varied triple bill – and so it turned out to be. But first a small gripe. We hadn’t seen the two ‘narrative’ ballets for a number of years, and had a few problems trying to explain the plots to someone who had never seen them (and memory can be horribly selective – or at least mine can!). Grabbing a cast list didn’t help – there was plenty of spare white space but no sign of a synopsis. The programme itself – a hefty 12oz for a hefty £8 – though full of undoubtedly fascinating background essays from which plot summaries might be précised, was a case of not being able to see the wood for the trees. So, as is increasingly the case, Google was our friend (and a free friend at that). The Firebird This is a strange beast of a ballet that is, itself, full of strange beasts. The music, of course, is so glorious that anything happening on stage can almost be regarded as a bonus. And what happens on stage is colourful and distracting if, ultimately, not to be taken too seriously (and not taking itself too seriously, either). I thought Gary Avis (on Tuesday) was absolutely superb as The Immortal Kostchei; with his large black ‘hump’ and foot-long fingernail-extensions in constant, impatient motion, he scuttled around the stage like a spider that had had four of its legs pulled off in some random act of childhood cruelty and was spending the rest of eternity being resentfully taking it out on any other living thing. Unlike Saunders the following night (whose nail extensions did not appear as impressive!), Avis kept in character throughout the stage and curtain calls – jabbing at the audience with one of his very long fingers, just as he had earlier at the enchanted princesses! I’m sure one of Kostchei’s powers was resistentialism (the malevolence of inanimate objects) as he mischievously arranged for apples to avoid being caught or not to stop rolling around, and for eggs to break of their own accord (I know this to be true because, in contrast, the bouncy ball and the kite in Month in the Country behaved themselves almost impeccably). It was absolutely wonderful to see the peerless Ed Watson on stage once more – albeit in a role that is more about pacing around than dancing. Ed reminds me of a fully-charged battery – a compact powerhouse of pent-up nervous and physical energy just waiting to break loose. There wasn’t much scope for that here, but it was bubbling away under the surface – particularly during the bit where he faces off against Kostchei. With his tight-fitting trousers/jacket, his purposeful pacing, and his confrontational attitude a hair-trigger away from physical assault, I couldn’t help but think of him as channelling the physicality of the comedian Lee Evans! Yasmine Nahgdi was lovely – her precise technique and striking looks (especially when made up) makes her a natural for the role (I still have fond memories of her doing a bit from the Firebird many years ago in the Deloitte Ignite event). I don’t know enough about the history of this ballet to know how faithful this production is to the original – but to me it has the air of a revival rather than some new interpretation (even though the costumes looked quite new). As such, perhaps it belongs with The Rite of Spring and Marguerite and Armand as something that is there to be deservedly admired for what it represented then rather than its relevance to the world today. A Month in the Country Having seen and liked this during its last run (2014?) I was surprised to find myself a bit disappointed following Tuesday’s performance. I couldn’t help but compare it (unfavourably) with the recent run of Winter Dreams:- Month seemed like a bit of a melodramatic soap opera compared with the darker, more ‘meaty’ content of Dreams. But, watching it again last night I realised this was primarily a category-error on my part – just because they are both based on Russian plays does not mean they should both conform to some imagined stereotype arising from my ignorance (I have neither read nor seen either play). The different casts, with their slightly different characterisations, also helped me see just how rich and complex – and clever – this ballet is. Now, I don’t know if it’s Ashton being extremely clever, or me just being either particularly slow on the uptake or having an over-active imagination, but I had a light-bulb moment on the way home last night. Yes, the ballet is based on a play, but Ashton seems to hide in plain sight the fact that he is literally presenting his one-act ballet as a three-act play. Thus, the ROH curtain opens to show a stage-wide net curtain behind which the protagonists sit; with the opening of that secondary curtain we literally see ‘curtain up’ on the play within the ballet. It’s a busy ballet, with something happening on-stage all the time – but there are two exceptions to this, and in both cases Kolia is the last to run off to leave the stage empty. Then, after a few seconds, characters return to the stage to continue the story; I see those two brief moments as representing two intermissions between three ‘acts’. Now, this may well be a well-known and obvious part of the structure of the ballet to the experts on this forum, but if Ashton put in that sort of ‘hidden’ gem to be ‘accidentally’ discovered by audience members, I can only raise my hat to him. Another small point I picked up on second viewing was how, when Natalia and Beliaev are alone together, Kolia is on the background bridge with his toy bow – and he pretends to fire arrows at them. Very Cupid-like, and very clever, Mr Ashton! So, I’m very much looking forward to Friday’s performance to see what other details I’ve missed! 😊 Symphony in C This is just the perfect marriage of music with movement – the ballet equivalent of the mapping of music to the physical world as in the Music of the Spheres. And just as that ancient philosophy is all about harmony, so too is this ballet; there’s no room for bravado or individualism – it’s all about the sum being greater than the parts. The individual orchestral instruments work together, and so do the dancers. Yes, instruments, individuals or pairs come to the fore, but it shouldn’t be about them, it should be about what they contribute to the whole. That’s why I completely concur with what has been said about what might, in a relative sense, be seen as showboating. Other individuals can be picked out for their positive contribution to the overall harmony… Fumi was superb as a replacement for Osipova. Fumi is so effortless in the fluidity of her movement; there is no evidence of exertion, no sense that muscles are straining to coerce her limbs to move against gravity or momentum; her limbs just flow naturally to wherever she wills them. Fumi also seems frictionless; I think if you started her spinning on pointe in a vacuum, she’d still be turning weeks later. She is one class act. Sarah Lamb’s ‘character’ was the epitome of serenity. She could have been asleep for all I know, eyes closed (at least seen from the amphi), and so languid that she was carried hither and thither, basking in her natural place at the centre of the perfection that was unfolding on stage. She is just completely and utterly lovely. I know how the ballet ends, but it fills me with wonder every time; the cast seems to multiply before my eyes, streaming on and filling the stage; ‘can you believe what you are seeing?’ they seem to be asking me. I’m not sure if I can, so I’m happy to go back time and time again to check… 😊
  16. What a wonderful contrast in narrative ballets I’ve been lucky enough to enjoy over the past couple of weeks - at two ends of an entertainingly broad spectrum. From the enigmatically alien, clinically sparse, cryptic crossword puzzle that was Medusa, to the raw, chaotic melee of blood, sweat and tears (and no doubt other bodily fluids, thankfully left to the imagination!) that is Romeo and Juliet. And, boy, did we get a ‘raw’ Juliet last night, in more than one sense of the word – Osipova appeared at the curtain calls with what looked like a scraped knee, and blood splatters on her already-distressed costume. I love narrative ballets - MacMillan ones in particular - for the interpretive freedom they give their dancers. The inevitable variation, coupled with inherent sensibilities of audience members, means that different things work for different people. Osipova works for me. Osipova doesn’t work for everyone, but she works for enough people to make her the superstar that she undoubtedly is. She works for me because I have never seen anyone make manifest, amplify and project their character's innermost feelings as she does; perhaps I’m emotionally hard-of-hearing compared to some, but I crave and react to strong acting in the same way I crave and react to perfect balances, fast fouettés and high jumps – I can't get enough! Here’s couple of examples of why I loved Osipova's Juliet last night. Warning – this involves comparison with other dancers; but please see this in the light of what I said above - that different things pull different levers in different people. And, of course, my memories of those performances were laid down by the operation of those self-same levers. The very first encounter between Romeo and Juliet… Hayward was transfixed by Corrales, staring into his eyes, rooted to the stage as he circled her; likewise, Lamb by Muntagirov. Afterwards, both Hayward and Lamb were in ‘conversation’ with Paris, before being drawn across the stage towards Romeo – only to be intercepted by Anna Rose and her mandolin. Apart from Lamb ‘snapping out’ of her initial transfixion by Romeo (a wonderful touch as she had just started to raise herself on pointe), all of this is best characterised by the word ‘smooth’. Here are young people, being passively lifted and carried by the irresistible tractor-beam grip of love at first sight. In contrast, Osipova’s was the startled behaviour of a young animal encountering something for the first time – her feet, arms and head moved tentatively and spasmodically, as if trying to react and adapt to, to understand and even protect herself from the shock of this unknown but curiously enticing, potentially thrilling but potentially dangerous, novel experience. She became hyper-alert, her senses vigilant; when Romeo moved away, she gave Paris the most cursory courtesy then completely ignored him, cocking her head up and down, trying to locate Romeo. When she crossed the stage towards him, it wasn’t the smooth progression of magnetic attraction but cautious, active forays forward and stops to reassess her position and progress – she wanted more of the experience, but was scared of its raw, untapped power. This made all the difference for me – and it’s why Osipova works for me. Act 3; Juliet sat on the bed… An absolutely key point in the story of Juliet (and as mentioned in a previous post, I think this ballet is so much more about her than him that it should be called Juliet and Romeo, or even just Juliet) is when she takes full control of her narrative arc and makes the fateful decision to visit Friar Lawrence (it could be argued that she’s already taken control by arranging her marriage to Romeo, but that decision is taken off-stage so doesn’t really count from the point of view of the audience). It’s also been mentioned that her prior encounters with her parents and Paris show her taking control, but I see those more as her just having a tantrum (she does, after all, end up hiding under the bed clothes); though I’d like to mention that I thought Osipova was simply amazing in those sequences – she seemed to be at the mercy of powerful forces, and was propelled from parent to parent to nurse as if in some demented game of pinball! But back to her sitting on the bed. In the majority of past performances, and also DVDs I have seen, Juliet sits motionless on the bed, staring out into space, while the music rises, falls, and swirls around to reflect the maelstrom of thoughts and emotions running through her head as she tries to think of a solution to her predicament. Since this, to me, is the pivotal moment when she wrests control from her family to herself and moves from passivity to agency, I always think just sitting still is a lost opportunity (regardless of whether or not it was MacMillan’s intention). So, I started to choke up when Osipova sat there, head partly down, then gradually raised her head to let those fleeting and contrasting emotions dance across her face as she moved her head around slightly as if looking at the problem from different angles. These gradually settled down as she made her decision and her rapid breathing subsided. The only other example of this I’ve seen is in a very old recording of Makarova at the ABT (on YouTube). Again, this tiny scene made all the difference for me – and it’s why Osipova works for me. There are numerous other examples I could give, but given the length of this post already I will now try to shut up about how wonderful was her performance. Despite the above, and even though I was totally moved by Osipova, I did not cry - as I was hoping to! I felt I felt everything that she felt, if that makes sense! - and though I had the odd tickle in my nose, the floodgates did not open. I think the major reason for this is the plot. As mentioned in a previous post, the narrative arcs of the two protagonists are not well balanced. Romeo’s development is a pale shadow compared to Juliet’s. She is the central character; hers is the more interesting story; she is the tragic architect of her own demise. And, in the energetic hands of Osipova, she provides the motive power to drive her own story forward (in contrast to, say, Corrales/Hayward where I felt Corrales provided much of that impetus by his sheer physicality). In fact, I have a major problem with Romeo’s story that limits my sympathy for him - and that is the deaths of Mercutio and Tybalt. In all three performances I have seen this run, it is not obvious that Tybalt maliciously kills Mercutio; typically, Romeo pushes Mercutio back as Tybalt barges between a couple of men, sword extended. Last night, even that ambiguity was less obvious – most of the ‘blame’ for what might otherwise be construed as an accident was Romeo’s (he pushed Mercutio backwards very vigorously onto Tybalt who was already standing there). As a result, Romeo’s subsequent angry killing of Tybalt seemed much less justifiable. Given this, I end up wondering does Romeo really ‘deserve’ Juliet? And, by extension, does he deserve my sympathy? There is also the question of Hallberg and the ‘natural chemistry’ between him and Osipova. The essential part of that will spring from the relationship between the actual dancers, and they obviously enjoy dancing together, but it will also reflect in the eye of the beholder. On the basis of last night, I would categorise their natural chemistry as that between sodium (Osipova) and water (Hallberg); the 'passive' latter allows the 'active' former to fizz and pop and burn. Their chemistry doesn’t seem that of an explosive mixture such as oxygen and hydrogen, where both elements are highly reactive; maybe they were like that once, as others have alluded to, but not last night (or maybe the plot doesn’t provide the necessary conditions for the chemistry to explode). I also wondered if he has not yet (physically or psychologically) fully recovered from injury, as there were a couple of lifts that looked more than a bit strained (the most obvious one being during the balcony scene when he took a couple of attempts to rise from a kneeling position with Osipova draped over his shoulders). Once again, I’ve written way too much on way too little – and I haven’t even got round to mentioning the superlative support from the rest of the cast... Hirano’s Tybalt – living proof you don’t need dynamic acting to convey entitled power; Hay’s Mercutio – for me, his death scene was the best, but only by a slim margin; McNally’s Lady Capulet – her grief at the death of Tybalt was horribly tangible; Mendizabel, Magri and Calvert’s harlots – still having a ball; Ella’s mandolin lead – virtuoso stuff! And a lovely gesture from Thomas Whitehead at the stage calls – cupping one of Osipova’s hands in both of his in obvious appreciation of an acting and dancing tour de force.
  17. Triple Bill – Thursday I can think of no better way to enjoy ballet than by going along to the ROH on cinema broadcast night. You are there (and there is not, as yet, a substitute for ‘being there’ – though once immersive VR technologies mature it might become a tougher choice, especially for those of us with long journeys), you can look wherever you like on stage, and you can soak up the atmosphere (of both ROH and the buzz of London in general). You can then go to an encore screening the following Sunday to see it all again, much of it in close-up – though with your view being dictated by the director – and often with interesting background pieces and interviews during the intervals. Then, if we are lucky, the powers that be will deign to release it on DVD/Blu-Ray, which then allows us to drop ‘I was there’ into as many conversations as we can! 😊 In The Golden Hour I can’t get as worked up about this ballet as many do on both this forum and in the press. I enjoyed it more than I did on opening night of this run and, in turn, more than I did during the previous run. But I think my appreciation has plateaued – and not at a particularly lofty height. More a pleasant walk in the Cotswolds than the magnificent vistas of the Alps – or even the Lake District. I guess that’s OK, as I don’t believe Wheeldon was trying to achieve anything more than a bit of light distraction. In that sense Bosso’s music (which I do like) is appropriately light, undemanding and easy on the ear. The interjection of those ugly moves still rankles. Yes, they stamp the piece as ‘Wheeldon’ but to me it’s the balletic equivalent of a painter scrawling their signature across an otherwise pleasant canvas rather than signing it discreetly in the corner. I can even reconcile this by interpreting the piece as about beautiful people letting their hair down a bit and enjoying themselves in that ‘golden hour’ (or is that ‘happy hour’?) at the end of a long day; they are there to entertain themselves rather than others, so apart from the odd ‘look at me’ glance (which I thought Beatrix did particularly well!) they don’t care how they behave. The trouble is, I’m not that interested in their self-centred world. And talking about hair, it was nice to see that the dancer with the most hirsute legs last week was clean-shaven last night! He might also have been out catching some sun as he looked a lot less pallid. All in all a definite improvement. Medusa It’s nice to be succinct, and I’ll try not to repeat anything from my earlier post, but I will need more than the two word summary of @Darlex (and certainly not those two words 😊 ). I was fascinated by this piece last week and continue to be now. My interest and appreciation of it has grown. I don’t know how high this one will go, but at the moment it’s heading towards a base-camp somewhere (so it won’t be the Cotswolds); my problem is that I’ve only got the Sunday encore screening left – so I have my fingers crossed for a DVD. What completely by-passed me last time was the sheer amount of time Osipova spends on stage. Apart from the two costume changes, she is constantly there - and at the centre of the action as well. Was an amazing feat of sustained, intense and captivating acting and dancing – she might well be playing the role of a Gorgon, but as a dance/actor she is an absolute Titan. In the fight scenes, I couldn’t help but think of the similarity of her leg – in the way she held and used it to deadly effect – with that of the stinging tail of a scorpion. I thought the fight scenes better executed than the first night. I remember from the insight evening an emphasis on maintaining contact between her hands and the heads of the assailing soldiers, and that came across very well last night. I also didn’t notice last time how atmospheric was the lighting of the pillars; lit from the front, the soldiers’ shadows were cast in giant, menacing form upon them. Hirano was superb last time, but last night he was even better. He looked (and behaved) as if someone had chiselled a powerful and fearsome deity off an ancient frieze and inadvertently brought it to life. OK, makeup and lighting played some part, but he was an inverted triangle of sculptured sinew, muscle and irresistible power. He is incredibly strong anyway (I'm thinking back to the way he threw Hayward around in the Act 1 PDD of Mayerling), and here he moved Osipova around as if she were a shop window mannequin (the sequence where he balances her on his feet was, once again, hugely impressive – she looked as if she were held, helpless, in some sort of stasis field – thanks, @Sim, for your Star Trek comment that made me think this way!). The storyline retained its slow, even, stylised, tableaux feel - which worked for me - and I noticed even more than before how the music provided the dramatic colour to the pastel shades on stage, with the transitions between electronic and sung music demarcating the ‘chapters’ in the story. The electronic music, and in particular the use of low-frequency notes, helped provide the sense of an alien, unsettling, other-worldliness. As with many stories I find enjoyable, I was left with a bit of an enigma. What was that look she gave us right at the end, when holding the bowl/mirror and looking over her shoulder? Was she asking us to remember her, asking us to understand her tragic story, or showing us she no longer had the power to harm us? Flight Pattern I must confess to wimping out of this. I wish they had put this worthy, heavyweight piece first and finished the night with the lighter Wheeldon. It’s a measure of just how powerful and relevant this piece is that I managed to convince myself it made more sense to get home an hour or so earlier and see it at the encore screening rather than stay. A bit like the way I managed to convince myself that I’d buy a copy of The Big Issue from the seller outside of Pret next time I saw him… 😞 I’m sorry, Crystal Pite.
  18. The lovers may well have been star-crossed, but we had the good fortune to see both the matinee and evening performances of Romeo and Juliet yesterday (Saturday). And what a galaxy of ballet stars on offer! On paper, the afternoon cast looked as if it might shine more brightly, but for me it was one stellar performance in the evening that burned itself into my memories – but more of her later. First, here are a few of the highlights and observations across the two performances... Matthew Ball: I was going to say his playing of Tybalt as a disdainful, cocksure bully was a revelation, but in thinking back to his wonderfully socio/psychopathic portrayal of Rudolf in Mayerling, I shouldn’t be surprised. Either way, his presence on the stage demanded the audience’s attention, and also provided a sufficiently nasty villain to almost excuse the red mist that descended over Romeo to drive him to vengeful murder (and what a rage that was! His assault on Ball was so frenzied it managed to knock Ball’s sword from his hand early in the fight). Having said that, one thing did look slightly incongruous. In this performance, Tybalt pushing his way through two male bystanders with his sword hand extended almost exactly coincided with Mercutio being pushed away by Romeo towards that same spot, so Mercutio being impaled on that sword looked almost accidental. Itziar Mendizabal: If the phrase ‘pure MacMillan harlot’ is not a contradiction in terms, then I would say Itziar is the purest, most faithful harlot I’ve seen. Full-on, unapologetic lust-for-life, with everything refracted through the prism of casual, no-strings-attached sex. It might not be the ideal career one would wish one’s daughter to follow, but at least she seemed to have got her work-life balance right and was happy… Marcelino Sambé: His Mercutio was an adolescent full of vim, vigour and youthful swagger; it was a joy to behold, rendered as it was with both superb technique and acting. That he did this to the same high level in the afternoon and evening left me hugely impressed. Anna Rose O’Sullivan: She had the same, fairly minor role in both performances, but seeing her on stage with Sarah lamb in the evening caused me to think about similarities – the beautiful poise and grace hard-wired into their arms and legs; their striking looks, especially the eyes; their stage-presence. James Hay: For me, his wonderful Benvolio in the afternoon just edged out Ella’s in the evening. There seemed to be a huge twinkle in his eye as he barged into the various couples at the ball, nudging them into the wings and clearing the stage for the lovers. Tomas Mock: It must go against the grain for a performer deliberately to play a featureless, two-dimensional non-entity such as Paris. But Tomas did it so well I was left wondering why on earth Lord Capulet would even entertain the notion of foisting him onto his cherished daughter, yet alone try to force her to go through with it! Blood may be thicker than water, but I guess money or influence is thicker again? Thomas Whitehead: In the afternoon, Whitehead assumed his ‘exasperated paternalistic superior’ persona (most recently seen as the Professor in Frankenstein) to good effect as the Prince of Verona. In the evening he kept a little bit of this as Tybalt. In contrast to Ball’s thoroughly unlikable character, Whitehead seemed to moderate his nastiness with a measure of family honour/avuncular protection in the way he responded to Romeo’s interest in Juliet. So that brings me nicely to the difficult bit - Romeo and Juliet. The afternoon performance didn’t leave me ‘cold’ like RuthE, but neither did I see the ‘great chemistry’ that Sim did. It popped and fizzed in places, but to me it never became a self-sustaining fire – it never ‘caught’. The evening performance was much better, but again I didn’t get the impression it ‘caught’. I was moved, but not to tears. That left me really puzzled, for the talent on show (Hayward, Corrales, Lamb, Muntagirov) was stunning. I want to avoid being labelled a miserable git, so I’ve come up with the following to explain my (lack of) reaction... The title Romeo and Juliet suggests an equivalence between the two characters, or even that Romeo takes precedence. But to me there is a definite asymmetry in the (ballet) story – and that is in favour of Juliet (perhaps the ballet should be called Juliet and Romeo?). Romeo’s ‘narrative arc’ through the story is much shallower than Juliet’s. OK, he falls in love and ends up killing himself because he thinks he has lost her, but by the end of Act 2 he’s still getting into fights and cavorting with harlots (albeit more reservedly) – superficially, not a huge amount appears to have changed. Juliet, on the other hand, goes from childhood to womanhood; goes from the playroom to the nuptial bedroom; goes from innocent toys to potent draughts; goes from simplicity to complexity; goes from passivity to agency. Romeo may well be the catalyst for many of those changes; he may well be the engine that drives the story forward; but it’s Juliet who is on the most interesting journey. So, in terms of any ‘chemistry’ igniting between them, I need both their stories to build and resonate strongly – and the straightforward libretto does not give me that. That leaves ‘ignition’ to what might be called the ‘natural chemistry’ between pairs of dancers. For me (and it is personal!), Nunez and Muntagirov have it; Osipova and Muntagirov have it; Naghdi and Ball have it; Osipova and Hallberg have it - I would guess that Romeo and Juliet with any of those pairings would reduce me to tears (and I’m hoping that will happen on June 1st and 11th with Osipova/Hallberg and Naghdi/Ball!). But on the basis of yesterday’s performances, for me I’m not convinced either Hayward and Corrales or Lamb and Muntagirov have it. I think the reason I found yesterday evening’s performance so captivating and moving was down to Sarah Lamb. Her acting ability seems to have flourished in recent years, and I thought Act 3 yesterday evening was a masterclass in conveying the complex ebb and flow of her emotional journey (the sequences with her parents, her nurse and Paris in particular). She was perfect in the final scene; unlike other performances I have seen, when she first sees Romeo in the tomb she thinks he is sleeping and crosses over, smiling, to cradle him and kiss him. When she tastes the poison on his lips and realises he is dead, her plummet into outright horror is gut-wrenching. When she kills herself with the knife (having first desperately tried to drink poison from Romeo’s empty bottle) she convulses as the knife enters, and convulses when she hits the floor. She is a very special ballerina indeed.
  19. Wednesday’s Triple Bill – Opening Night In The Golden Hour: I was rather underwhelmed the first time I saw this a few years ago, so I was a bit surprised to find myself rather enjoying (most of) it on Wednesday evening. I had not heard any of Bosso’s music before, and was intrigued enough first time round to listen to it on Spotify (a lot of the music in the ballet comes from his album The Way of 1000 and One Comet). The first half of the ballet appealed to me the most as it contained more ensemble dancing, with the second half containing more duets; Wheeldon’s choreography for pairs doesn’t capture my attention particularly well, and I think part of the reason is that he tends to break up, in my view, the dancers’ ‘flow’ with his own brand of awkward (ugly?) moves (in that sense there is something McGregor-esque about Wheeldon’s choreography, though thankfully diluted to near-homeopathic levels). When this happens with a lot of dancers on stage, the effect is less intrusive compared to when it happens with just a pair. For example, what on earth is added to the overall effect of an otherwise engaging duet when Campbell lifts Lamb flat above his head and Lamb sticks her arms and legs up in the air in the pose of the dead mouse-king in the ABT Nutcracker? It grates – especially when Lamb’s character otherwise comes across as serenity personified (and no one does ’serene’ like Sarah Lamb!). The new costumes did not work for all the male dancers – the hairy legs and pale complexion of one of the male leads made for a rather unflattering contrast to the shimmering, pastel finish of his costume. Medusa: I found this a sufficiently fascinating piece to want to see it again, but perhaps that is more to do with Osipova taking the eponymous lead rather than the piece itself (I’m basically happy to watch anything with Osipova in over and over again - even when that was ‘Hanging Out With Sergei’ [© Quintus] in Project Polunin). She completely inhabits her roles, and when this is amplified though the choreography the effects can be devastating (Anastasia, Manon, Giselle, etc). In Medusa, the choreography was more cryptic and less familiar, but she still managed to make the story her own and convey terror, preternatural power, and loss and reflection. For the stage call she looked drained, emotional, overwhelmed, triumphant, happy – she had given it her all and was greeted by a deservedly rapturous reception. I don’t know if this is the choreographer’s first ‘narrative’ ballet, but the narrative thread seemed very understated, almost ‘flat’. In the programme notes he alludes to the difficulties inherent in presenting the core of the story – essentially the victim-blaming and punishment of the violated priestess. There is no room, therefore, for melodrama. Instead, the story is almost relayed to us in an unemotional, slow, steady, documentary style. We are left to digest the facts of the matter and draw our own conclusions. Correctly, there is also no room for anything graphic – the parallels with the modern world of a powerful male figure abusing a female ‘employee’ do not require it and, in fact, debar it. Instead, the terrorising of Medusa by Poseidon is highly abstract and stylised, almost ritualistic, and its impact increased by being played out with the slow inevitability of ‘bullet time’ in films. One particular sequence conveyed the totality of the power he held over her, and her helplessness to resist the abuse – Poseidon lying on the floor, legs vertical, with Medusa balanced on her side on his feet (one in her armpit, one on her hip); she with legs and arms outstretched; him slowly turning her. Another key moment that was dealt with non-sensationally was the decapitation of Medusa by Perseus. There was no sword-swinging or hacking; he approached Medusa, who was on the floor, with the scarf she had given him, placed it over her head, and pulled off the headdress/her head; she leaned back to put her head on the stage, hidden, and convulsed a bit while he took the ‘head’ back to present to Athena. There was nothing triumphant about him – he looked sad at having had to do it. Having mulled it over and consigned it to print, I think I’ve just convinced myself that the fairly low-key choreography and story-telling was deliberate. This is less a heroic tale of the defeat of a monster, and more a tragedy arising from the crass arrogance of god-like power. The staging supported the stark, documentary style of the story-telling well. Everything was bare and minimalistic, the only embellishments being the large brass dish-like vessels scattered around the stage - the lighting of which from above gave the impression they contained lit candles. The back-lit (stone?) pillars that descended for the middle section provided a more claustrophobic atmosphere for the ‘fight’ scenes between Medusa and the soldiers, amongst whom was Perseus (Matthew Ball). These fights, too, were highly stylised and played out in slow-motion; Medusa’s superhuman power was evident in the way she toyed with and then dispatched her soldier victims. Costume design was mostly effective. The non-mortals (Athena, Poseidon and Medusa) all had striking vertical lines drawn down their faces/bodies. Apart from Athena’s scarf, the only significant amount of colour was in Medusa’s Gorgon dress, with the lower half blood red. Her Gorgon headdress (a mass of thick, black, semi-opaque tendrils) pulled off the trick of simultaneously being rigid – so they didn’t just bounce around – but appearing to be in motion due to their coiled, translucent nature. One particular aspect of the staging was not convincing - the soldiers’ costumes (gauze-like jumpsuits) looked like they had been borrowed from The Unknown Soldier (though their face-masks – a means of hiding from Medusa’s gaze? – looked the part). Perhaps the most ‘dramatic’ aspect of the production was the music. A curious mix of Purcell songs and electronica, the result was a score that provided a kind of aural illumination of the on-stage events. It worked for me (though, thinking of another thread on ballet scores, it’s not one I’d want to sit down and listen to in isolation!). Perhaps it was the presence of the vocals, but I couldn't help thinking back to another ballet based on mythology – Diana and Actaeon from the Titian Metamorphosis trilogy in 2012. What a contrast between the two, with Diana and Actaeon played out for (melo)dramatic effect (complete with a ‘torn flesh’ costume) against the priapic, riot-of-colour backdrop by Chris Ofili. I would like to think there is room in the ROH’s pantheon of original work for both pieces. Flight Pattern: Wednesday’s performance was my first opportunity to see this work, and I’m looking forward to seeing it again next week. Triple bills tend to end with big, loud pieces that send the audience out happy, even if that’s briefly into the cold and rain on their way home to warmth and shelter. This is a different beast – an unrelentingly serious work that makes us appreciate our good fortune in having those welcoming destinations rather than just an interminable journey between one place and another. It starts very slowly, with a poorly-lit, huddled mass of people making slow progress across the stage. It’s one of the triumphs of this production that, over the course of the next half an hour, this swarm (to call out the dog-whistle vocabulary of certain politicians) resolves itself into what it really is - individuals united in their predicament, but with their own stories to tell and relationships to explore. Small movements by large numbers of dancers, and explosive movements by individual dancers (such as the angry despair portrayed by Sambé right at the end), combined with atmospheric lighting and the use of huge, black, mobile walls to ‘channel’ the refugees’ journey, are used to great effect throughout. A stand-out moment for me was the sight of one of the women (McNally?) cradling a swaddled ‘baby’ in her arms, only to turn around to unravel and drop an empty coat on the floor. After a brief duet with Sambé she picks the coat up and walks towards the back of the stage. One by one, other dancers put garments on her outstretched arms, until she collapses to the floor under the load; at this point, all the other dancers rush up behind her for support, helping her to carry on - very poignant, and speaking volumes about loss and suffering. My own personal interpretation of this episode was that it was not the death of her child being portrayed, but rather it was the thwarting of her dreams of a life in which she could have one; such is the unrelenting plight of the refugee that ‘ordinary’ things that might otherwise come to pass are denied and can only be imagined, and that realisation only adds to the suffering. As she made her way to the back of the stage, the weight of all those broken dreams overwhelmed her. Overall, very sobering and thought-provoking. Thank you, Crystal Pite.
  20. Last night’s She Persisted (Wednesday) was not only thoroughly enjoyable, but also excellent value for money; it’s advertised as a triple bill, but of course there’s also a bonus performance thrown in for free (which a lot of people end up missing in their rush for the bar or the loo) as well as an interesting bit of Grayson Perry artwork with a background theme which …err… stands out like a sore thumb once noticed. Broken Wings: This was my first time seeing this engaging, if slightly overlong, potted biography of Frida Kahlo. In hindsight, and in the light of comments in other posts in this thread, I’m glad I read through the background material in the programme. I had heard of Frida Kahlo, and was aware of some of her art, but without the programme I know I would have had problems understanding the on-stage action. At the other end of the spectrum to my ignorance, there were obviously people in the audience who were totally immersed in ‘Kahlo culture’ (one woman had a large, multi-coloured picture of Kahlo’s head on her upper back – exposed in all its impressive glory by a low-back print dress). That the performance managed to reach both ends of this spectrum (as far as I could tell from audience reaction) is testament to the skills of the creative team and dancers alike. Despite the hardships Frida endured (some of which were fairly graphically depicted) the story came across as a celebration - a celebration of the human spirit and what it can achieve in the face of adversity. The programme mentions her art style as being naïve, and in representing that style on stage in the form of animal avatars, lush tendrils and stylised skeletons, the overall performance came across more as a primary-colour, caricature-containing comic-strip rather than an in-depth consideration of an artistic life. That may well have been deliberate; for example, the role of the skeletons as ‘unseen forces’ in the background – observing, mediating and interfering in our affairs – reminded me of the ‘ghosts’ in Ghost Dances. But here they were cartoonish and ‘playful’ (when Frida slapped one on the wrist, all four of them shook their hand as if in pain; when four of them danced in line using a ladder as a prop, they seemed to be doing a playful parody of the cygnets in Swan Lake). In terms of individual performances, I was really impressed by Khaniukova as a dance-actress; she managed the not inconsiderable task of keeping my focus on her, even with the many colourful distractions occurring elsewhere on the stage. And when she was the central-focus in the ‘confines’ of one of the opened sides of the large cube that was the main prop, she turned that limited space into a world of its own. I was, however, really disappointed to hear, so soon after Don Q, more pointless on-stage shouting/dialogue during the performance ☹️. Nora: Well, if reading the programme helped increase my appreciation of Broken Wings, it was essential to my enjoyment of Nora. But that is not a bad thing: I would contend that some research/preparation is necessary to get the most out of any narrative ballet, given the limitations of the medium. So, I knew beforehand that a key part of the plot was that Nora had forged her father’s signature in order to secure a loan from Krogstad, and that this gradually becomes apparent within the play. But how to deal with this in the ballet (which is heavily stripped down in terms of characters)? It would have been fairly easy to put a brief paragraph (on the cast list, not even the programme) explaining the set-up, but instead of trusting/expecting the audience to behave as anything other than passive recipients of ‘entertainment’, a rather clumsy attempt was made to create a prologue in which recorded, competing voices were heard (yes, the spoken word again! ☹️ ) while Nora wrestled with her conscience(s) on stage. It suggested a lack of confidence by the creative team and frankly seemed a bit of a cop-out. Thankfully, the rest of the ballet overcame this faltering start, greatly helped by Glass’ Tirol Concerto. It was glorious to hear this Philip Glass composition being played live! Minimalist compositions like this fit dance so well: - the limited ‘musical palette’; the simple, quickly-familiar melodies; the repetition; the subtle changes between repetitions; the sudden shifts in ‘mood’; all seem to mirror and complement similar constraints within dance. Hats off to Stina Quagebeur for creating a choreography that was the perfect accompaniment to the music and which ‘narrated’ the stripped-down story so well. And Takahashi made a wonderfully expressive Nora – on the cusp between oppression and liberation. Similarly, Caley played her superficially-loving, but controlling and quick-to-anger husband with effortless ease. Making up the triangle was Dowden’s Krogstad – about whom not much needs to be said as he does very little. The incorporation of the five ‘voices’ that follow Takahashi around and help illustrate her internal struggles worked well. Dressed in silvery-grey, they reflected her traumatised psyche by having ‘slashes’ patched into their costumes (Takahashi’s costume also had stylised insets). Bonus performance!: The preparation of the stage for the Rite of Spring has become a performance in its own right – and it’s open to public view as the curtain is kept raised. Apparently, a view of the stage is also relayed to the TV screens in the bar/public areas (presumably to try to keep bar revenues flowing!), though there’s no substitute for ‘being there’! For those that haven’t seen it, a time-lapse video can be seen here - https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Rq4TJf8bstI Considering what the preparation is for, it’s ironic that the preparation itself has become a ritual – when the dozen or so stagehands line up at the front to rake the peat completely flat, the audience responds with enthusiastic applause and whistling! 😊 The Rite of Spring: The sense of anticipation of audience members around me was palpable as the start of the Rite approached – this is what most of them were here for! This is the second time I’ve seen this production at Sadlers Wells, and I was equally excited. Earth (OK, a special type of peat), men, women, life, death, music, movement, passion, nudity, fear, atavism, tribalism, mob psychology, sweat – what a primitive, raw, heady and effective mix! What an adrenaline-rush! What I noticed this time around was the degree of individuality shown by the women; each had a definite character they expressed when on their own, though they reverted to synchronised ‘mob behaviour’ at other times – is this something they are encouraged to develop themselves, or are there set characters they are asked to ‘play’? This individuality was much less apparent in the men, but there again the individual to be chosen was not one of them; they would not suffer! The one male that stands out, of course, is the ‘leader’ – in this case an implacable, solid James Streeter (complete with impressive beard!); he is just fabulous in everything he does! The one female that stands out, though we only know who towards the end, is the ‘chosen one’; Precious Adams gave a fine performance - though possibly too ‘balletic’ in places. But actually that is being overly-critical (much like Lorenz's ducklings, I think I was 'imprinted' by the first performance I saw, which featured Francesca Velicu)! Considering that the 'chosen' dancer has to drive the ballet to its conclusion - effectively on her own, and literally exposed to the audience - I have nothing but lasting admiration for whoever takes on this iconic role in this iconic ballet.😍
  21. Jan, I’ll see your three ‘loves’ and raise you two! 😊 I love, love, love, love, love this ballet! I am bowled over by every aspect of it – including its (deliberately, to me) cryptic staging. Having said that, there were two aspects to last night’s broadcast that disappointed. Firstly, there was no contextual introduction beyond a paltry voiceover - ‘a radical rethink of a much-loved classic’; without some scene-setting I would imagine that many new viewers (especially those not used to ballet, or those expecting tutus) may well have switched channel quite quickly. Secondly, the quality of the HD broadcast was variable – it became quite blotchy in dimly-lit scenes. Reassuringly, the Blu-ray itself is pin-sharp throughout (and even more detailed). I haven’t read many, if any, reviews of this Giselle by ‘professional critics’ as I’ve gradually lost faith in them over the years (too many errors, too sloppy, too extreme – all symptoms, perhaps, of the pressure for what might be called ‘clickbait copy’); I find the combined observations by the ‘amateurs’ on this forum (amateur only in the sense of not doing it for a living!) much more illuminating, considered, knowledgeable and – as a consequence – authoritative (and don’t forget to click the ‘like’ button if you agree with this!😛 ). But I was intrigued enough by JohnS’s post to have a look at the lengthy and detailed critic’s review provided as a link. So, here goes with a review of a review… Now, I know the lighting is fairly low at the end of Act 1, and there is supposed to be some ambiguity in how Giselle dies (an ambiguity that is then cleared up to terrifying effect in Act 2), but “The cast massed as the music became deafening, then silence and they dispersed: Albrecht was cradling Giselle’s lifeless body.” What?! At the end of Act 1 her body is cradled by Hilarion, not Albrecht, because (spoiler alert!) it’s Hilarion who has just murdered her! - the same Hilarion who is then forced to re-enact that killing in Act 2 to a) tell us how she died, b) to force him to confront his guilt, c) to convince Giselle she is actually dead, and d) to justify his execution by the Wilis. The reviewer’s next sentence suggests it was not a typo – so I’m afraid I paid scant attention from then on in as a lot of the tone of the overall review stems from similar confusion and lack of research/reflection (and time?). But here are a few points that could have been cleared up really easily before committing them to print, though that would have diluted the overall tone of the review (and no doubt reduced its clickability). “Hilarion forced the men to dance, and then the men and women danced with hands like antlers”. The hands were forming a stylised ‘crown’ – symbolising the power of the landlords/rulers. This is the same pose Albrecht struck earlier to try to tell Giselle he is of that class (OK, it was fleeting, but this is a ballet that I have certainly found requires, and rewards, attention and repeated viewing. It is a very subtle gesture in that respect – Myrtha uses the same pose, and also tries to get Giselle to bow to her, in Act 2; it seems even in the afterlife there is a class hierarchy manifesting as power and subservience!). “But the Landlord walked to center and – it was hard to tell depending on the angle of viewing – did he kiss Albrecht or did he just sniff him? Jokes aside, why?” He kissed him – to tell everyone else that Albrecht is one of the ‘landlords’ not the ‘workers’! It’s the Judas Kiss, the trigger for the tragedy that follows. Also, touching the face (with hands as well as lips) is a sign of intimacy in AK’s culture (I can’t remember if that was in the programme notes or the Giselle documentary that this was mentioned). It was a very significant moment – not a joke! Critics are supposed to do the work for the readers, not the other way around. “Khan treated pointe work as if he knew nothing about it but the stereotype of being on tiptoe.” Extended pointe work was used (very effectively) to signify inhabiting the world of the supernatural. Myrtha (and the Wilis) spend a lot of their time on pointe because they are supernatural (but they are not superhuman, so they do step back to the ground on occasion). Giselle, once she is ‘revived’, is standing flat-footed, as she is between one world and the other (she keeps looking to the back of the stage, back to ‘real’ life) and Myrtha tries to lift her onto pointe (ie become inducted into the Wilis – much like the rapid spins in the traditional Giselle). “Rojo got up and wandered to the music” This is Giselle struggling to make the transition to the afterlife of the Wilis - using the ‘pole’ to try to get onto pointe, and hefting it as if for balance, or as a weapon. For me, the music is distorted to reflect her struggle and disorientation. It is a brilliantly-realised passage (literally, from one world to the next). “All the women entered with poles;” Again, a little research would have cleared this up. Apparently, bamboo canes were used in early forms of weaving to separate the threads. The ‘poles’ are full of symbolism, tradition and history. The Wilis are a very old Order! “Hilarion cringed and when Giselle slammed into him, a hug turned into rape. It made the point, but it didn’t make sense. Not because the character wasn’t potentially violent or that sort of violence against women isn’t real, but Hilarion was surrounded, in danger and very aware of this. Just because something can happen doesn’t mean it should happen onstage. It was asking us to believe, in a production that had to cohere logically, that he was not just violent but stupid to Darwin Award level.” I literally don’t know where to start with this, but suffice to say he was re-enacting the murder (not the rape!) of Giselle he carried out earlier – for all the reasons stated above. It makes for terrifying viewing, and it makes terrifying sense. I’ll stop there. There are other points in the review I could address (including bits that I found significant but weren’t mentioned) but I’m getting tired writing about it (as, no doubt, are you in reading about it! 😊 ). The bottom line is that I think both types of ‘media’ mentioned above are doing this ballet a disservice by being sloppy in their approach to covering it – the BBC by just showing it ‘raw’, and in doing so risking putting off viewers; and the content of the review in the ‘online printed media’, the accuracy of which is at odds with the authority it presumes to adopt.
  22. I came out of last night’s Don Q feeling much as I did on Monday (with effectively the same cast) – thoroughly impressed by some exhilarating individual performances, but frustrated by the supporting framework within which those performances were presented. For me, a major gripe about this production has been the bland musical arrangement - the vibrancy apparent in other productions has been weakened, unnecessarily making more difficult the tasks of the choreography and dancers. Having said that, the music did seem a bit livelier than on Monday – and asking others about it, they felt so too. That did not, however, redeem it – the music still seemed ponderous in places, still had unnecessary ornament (the bit at the start of Act 2, which I always associate with La Bayadere, had the occasional drum-roll thrown in), and I’m sure the melody of the slow part of the Act 3 PDD has been tinkered with. These may well be legitimate things to do when re-orchestrating, but for me they added nothing and ended up just being irritating. Also irritating was all the on-stage shouting; OK, no doubt it is proper Spanish rather than ‘cod’, but it’s equally meaningless (I don’t speak Spanish, which is my problem, of course) and pointless either way. It’s an intrusive, distracting, tacky, ballet-inappropriate gimmick. How on earth can it be justified in the middle of the Act 3 PDD? The principals are on-stage, moving from one phase to the next, and the rest of the cast move as if to surround them, calling out. Quite frankly, I would rather have a mobile phone or two go off; not only would it be quieter, it would be accidental rather than deliberately planned! As on Monday, the individual dancers shone. Osipova seemed somewhat more, though perhaps not fully, ‘at ease’ this time around, and once again provided moments of sheer dance joy. Her solo in Act 2 was a masterclass in balance, and her accelerating Act 3 fouettés were brought to a halt instantly, nonchalantly and seemingly effortlessly (where does all that rotational energy actually go? She must be breaking at least one law of physics!). Muntagirov provided his customary massive leaps and dizzy spins, though a couple of turns were a bit off-axis (the two Act 1 lifts also seemed more precarious compared to the rock-steady holds on display on Monday). I was mightily impressed on Monday by Kaneko as the Queen of the Dryads, and I was even more impressed last night. She flowed through her moves slowly and smoothly, full of confidence in herself and her character. In fact, ‘confidence’ is probably the best word to sum up the attitudes and performances across the whole cast sheet last night. Here is a troupe with total (and fully justified) belief in their abilities, and I salute that confidence and the on-stage magic it engenders. But I’m still left with that nagging feeling that the whole would have been much greater than the sum of the individual parts if the dancers had been performing in a different production.
  23. I’ve seen quite a few crimes on the ROH stage recently. The orgy of killings in Frankenstein – a result on one man’s obsession with breathing life into dead tissue – should have been the most disturbing, but last night I saw what I can only describe as an act of vandalism, as the ‘creative’ (hah!) team behind the current production of Don Q conspired to suck the life out of a vibrant, joyful classic and spray-paint its corpse with pointless tags such as ‘three windmills!’ ‘moving houses!’ and ‘cod Spanish shouting!’. And this wasn’t the shock of the new. I saw, and heard, this production a couple of times during its first run, but I didn’t realise the extent to which I must have supressed those traumatic memories (though part of that trauma was, of course, Osipova’s awful fall 😢). Music is great at triggering memories and, unfortunately, they all came flooding back as the first strains of the overture struggled to escape from the orchestra pit. The music was weak, diluted, flat. Where was the vitality, the joie de vivre, the exuberance of, say, the ABT or Bolshoi arrangements? Don Q is, after all, an unapologetically happy celebration of love and life – and no-one dies! It was as if the musical landscape had been bulldozed flat – as if orchestrated for some ‘easy listening’ radio programme, or as late-night lounge music, or as 24/7 lift muzak. Maybe that’s why the creative team felt it necessary to try to add a bit of aural excitement by injecting, seemingly at the slightest excuse, various shouts, whistles, and ‘cod Spanish dialogue’. Call me old-fashioned, but the languages of ballet are movement and music, not cod Spanish. I’m really happy to hear the sly nod to opera in Mayerling, the voice of Virginia Woolf before the start of Woolf Works, and the scream in the last act of Anastasia, but I think the line should be drawn a long way before the vocalisations found in this Don Q (as well as that other recent offering, The Unknown Soldier). In terms of the staging, I guess at least I should be grateful there were no video projection effects (that would be like seeing the Queen wearing AirPods). The mechanical on-stage effects, though, added very little for no-doubt enormous cost. Why was it necessary to adopt some sort of Google ‘street view’, and shift the focus from one street to another, just for the entrance of Don Q? Why do we need three windmills, and mobile ones at that? I did, however, find Don Q's horse fittingly endearing; it looked like it came last in the auditions for War Horse and was on its way to the knacker's yard (hopefully taking the rest of the production with it...). It was great to see Muntagirov and Osipova dancing together again, and they looked like they were enjoying it as much as the audience. Muntagirov has a baseline level of ‘princliness’ that doesn’t quite fit the character of Basilio – but frankly who cares when he dances as well as he does? And he makes such a stable partner for the bundle of pure energy that is Osipova – you got the impression he could have held those one-handed lifts for minutes rather than seconds (and didn’t we all secretly wish that?). But even the considerable talents of this pair of superstars couldn’t salvage this dire production; I felt I was watching it for the bits I might see in a gala. But what a gala performance they put in! I lost count, but she must have completed close to 10 double and 15 single fouettés in the Act 3 PDD. And the speed at which she did it seemed to pull the orchestra out of its stupor (up to then, some of the PDD music had sounded more like a dirge rather than a celebration of love at a couple’s wedding). I was really impressed by Kaneko as the Queen of the Dryads in the dream scene in Act 2, and Gasparini made a fitting Amour. Along with Osipova and the corps, the dream scene was certainly the best sustained ensemble sequence of the evening. O’Sullivan seemed to be having a ball as one of Kitri’s friends. The look on her face when Basilio pushed her away as if so say ‘why would I like her?’ was absolutely priceless! Storm-Jensen ended up falling for the considerable charms (well, a big diamond ring) of Whitehead’s Gamache. She kept up the pretence during the curtain calls, proudly showing the ring off to the audience! I’m a massive fan of Osipova, Muntagirov and Don Q, so my head should be full of last night’s performance; but it isn’t. My favourite Don Qs are the ABT production (from the 80s, with Baryshnikov and Harvey; still available on DVD), the cinema broadcast by the Bolshoi in 2011 (with Osipova and Vasiliev) and the live performance by the Mikhailovsky in 2013 at the Coli (with Osipova and Vasiliev). Now, the Royal has Osipova in its ranks, and its male leads such as Muntagirov are wonderful. The breadth of talent across the rest of the company is also on a par with that of the ABT in the 80s. Given that overlap, I’m led to the inevitable conclusion that it’s the production that’s to blame for the empty space in my head.
  24. I went to opening night (Bonelli/Morera/Wang/Hay), Friday 15th (Dyer/Lamb/Hirano/Acri) and closing night (Bonelli/Morera/Kish/Hay) and I thought I’d try to make sense of my reactions to the performances - before this thread goes as cold as a dissecting-room cadaver... I thoroughly enjoyed all three performances, but the middle one (Dyer/Lamb/Hirano/Acri) affected me the most. I was buzzing as I left the ROH, and I got the impression that most of the (near capacity) audience were similarly affected. This was despite Dyer’s portrayal of Victor lacking the intensity, focus and definition of Bonelli’s, and Lamb’s acting skills not quite the match of Morera’s (though she has come on in leaps and bounds recently – I’m thinking of her superb Larisch in Mayerling last autumn). The reaction at the end of Act 3 was absolutely thunderous and, on reflection, I think this was down to the majority of the audience (including me) getting caught up in the story that had been gradually (OK, sometimes slowly) building to its climax. There were a couple of telling moments that suggested a lot of us were in there, ‘living’ that onstage drama. The blink-of-an-eye killing of Elizabeth by the creature (a violent spasm that was the culmination of a sustained terrorising that had been playing out, almost in slow motion, for several minutes - including what seemed like Sarah Lamb being swung around by her neck) triggered audible gasps and yelps from the audience around me. The suicide of Victor caused someone to shriek elsewhere in the auditorium – and it didn’t sound like it was just from surprise. I think Hirano must take much of the credit for this; indeed, his stage-call was met by a roar from the audience that was only matched by that for the orchestra (which played the dissonant, wonderfully atmospheric Liebermann score as well as I have ever heard it). Thinking back, the only audience reaction I can recall being louder (albeit considerably, foot-stompingly louder!) was for the Osipova/Vasiliev Flames of Paris. I had previously been impressed (at least by the end of the run) by Hirano’s portrayal of Rudolf in Mayerling – and there are possible parallels between the two. Both Rudolf and the Creature are extremely powerful (one politically and the other physically); both lack or have a warped morality; both are ‘outsiders’, having been rejected by those close to them; both crave acceptance/love; both find it difficult to control their pent-up emotions. Perhaps what gave that last act its power was the incredible dynamic and gulf between Hirano’s Creature and Lamb’s Elizabeth. Both were other-worldly, with the Creature as from the underworld (a manifestation of fearful, unbridled physical power, with Hirano’s stature and muscular frame ideal for the part) and Elizabeth as something heavenly (the character of Elizabeth is ‘pure’ and limitlessly loving, and Lamb just can’t help looking gorgeously ethereal). That contrast made the jeopardy of those last scenes even more pronounced and effective – the ballet equivalent of the peril of Fay Wray in the hands of King Kong. I ended up feeling sympathy towards Hirano’s Creature in the same way I felt sympathy for his Rudolf – he was as much a victim of society and a nature he could not control as he was the perpetrator of the deeds for which he was condemned.
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