dance

Don Quixote – Bolshoi Ballet – July 26 2016, The Royal Opera House

The Bolshoi set out their stall in this barnstorming, ebullient version of Petipa’s old classic, and what a joy it was to see. In fact, Alexei Fadeyechev‘s new version, first seen at Bolshoi in January 2016, more than sets out a stall: one feels it sets it out, shows the Bolshoi’s wares (dazzling,  scintillating, beguiling) and then realises that it secretly wishes to burn down the marketplace. “They’re the best in the world!” said a lady to me. Is there a best? Opinions differ, and patriotism may play a part, but there is no doubt they came with a mission to show us how it’s done. Chutzpah carried the day. Supernumeraries, an excellent corps de ballet gave it the requisite energy, but the star turns (and there are, literally, many tour and turns) propelled the ballet into the realm of excellence.

There’s hardly a story. Boy (Basil) likes girl (Kitri) and girl likes boy (a good start!) but each can’t have each due to socio-economics (viz., being rather poor)  although Basil’s wonderful sparkly costume in the final pas de deux suggests he has come into some money, or that the magical kingdom of the dryads grants not only a visions of loveliness, but wishes too…And if not so poor, then to judge by Kitri’s father’s reaction,they are poorly matched. Don Quixote himself gets mixed up in the affair,but really, it’s not his ballet.

Certainly B + K (B: Vladislav Lantratov, K:Maria Alexandrova) have million dollar smiles – one suspects hardwired by daily Bolshoi grind, the rigours of class, ground further by the polish of experience and professional lineage, ground so much indeed that they become not a lens to see into any particular insight of soul (Don Q doesn’t quite need the dramatic register of say, an Odette,) but more a highly polished mirror bouncing the spotlight’s bright gleam, refracting that light and lighting up the stage with joy. “Eyes and teeth!” says the showbiz adage, and there were plenty here. Smiles bright, no cheesy false grins, all appeared genuine or at least expertly veneered (and I don’t mean literally cosmetically, but who knows, perhaps to get ahead, Russian dentistry may lend a helping hand to some dancers, to lend them a razzle-dazzle to set them apart from others?)

Certainly there were none of the fixed grimaces one sometimes encounters, not even in some of Kitri’s more fearsomely teeth-gnashing, toe-mashing moments, those fast “pricking” hops on point, and those travelling showpiece hops on on foot. Pirouette after pirouette was pulled off nicely (although Lantratov did seem to forget to “help” on one turn!). Those familiar thirty-two fouettes were taken at some clip, precise, powerful and focused, traversing unerringly laser-like  downstage to front and centre, ending in a perfect “ta-da!” – arms aloft in glee, Alexandrova’s happy “yep, I just killed it!” grin, our applause. The audience were all so taken in by the show they would have applauded (and did) at everything. Job well done. (Interested youtubers can see here a sense of  Ms Alexandrova’s Kitri!)

Sure, Basil wasn’t always so tidy in the air but he was just what the Don ordered, cheeky and playful. Not quite  Baryshnikov‘s jaw-dropping panache, that laugh-out-loud insouciance, but chutzpah in spades, showbizzy flourishes at landings, even an audible humongous sniff of superiority at the end of his variation – a triumphant gesture, and just what the doctor ordered. Too, his “suicide” scene was genuinely amusing, and that’s no mean feat.

As a partnership, they seemed genuinely happy to be with each other. The famous one handed presses, no-hand fishdives, flying leaps into embraces were all present if at times maybe not as utterly effortless as they could be made to look,  so technically as a pairing they were (the very very minor instance above excused) sound, but more than that there was chemistry galore. They found the core of the story, and sold it well. (In the meantime the marketplace kept burning, fanned by fantastic footwork, collective mission, and Fadeyechev’s expert direction). Little admonishments and taps of Kitri’s fan told Basil just who was boss. Coy glances, smitten stolen kisses, not so much smouldering as just plain charming.

Lincoln Center Festival 2014

Lantrantov and Alexandrova as Basil and Kitri at Lincoln Center Festival 2014

Fadyechev’s show feels, to use a friend’s thoughts, rather like an old fashioned musical from the 1950s, as if one were watching a Rodgers and Hammerstein-esque affair onstage. There was the same commitment to pure entertainment without affectation or embarrassment over the means to achieve it, the same technicolour, larger than life appearance, gorgeous to see. A lady nearby said “its very Russian”. What this means I believe is the same: that same unfeigned dedication to entertain, a presentation which doesn’t shy away from mime – here actual pantomime, comic and played right to the back of the house which might otherwise have seemed “over the top”, but instead was pitch perfect. (Consonances with the big-top and Russian circus clowning are not too distant.) As such, Denis Savin‘s Gamache was beautifully given, comically foppish and yet hard not to like.

More cynical observers may have found it all over-cooked, but watching it, it’s undeniable that each member of the company believes in what ballet can do, and that they believe it’s a valuable, vital artform. And that’s what matters. If you are going to sell as story, belief transmits to hearts. I was sold.

oxana-sharova-c2a9-yekaterina-vladimirova (1)

Oxana Sharova as Mercedes.

So there was much fan-snapping and tambourine bashing (no “olé’!”s happily,) and real castanet clacking, not least in  Oxana Sharova‘s (Mercedes) standout solos full of  sinuous cambrés and lots of skirt waving. Townspeople and massed dances were full of vim, and their numbers of course fabulously danced.

I am delighted to report the Kingdom of the Dryads was legitimately beautiful, the more successful because a darkened stage brightens, to reveal a blue-tinged scene and ranks of statuesque beautiful dryads standing in perfect postures. A vision of another world, visited by cute-as-a-button Daria Khokhlova’s Cupid. No wonder Alexei Loparevich’s well characterised bumbling old Don Quixote appeared bewildered, enchanted by the scene.

Act II felt slower, but only in comparison with the preceding Act. I have never for instance (as in Act I) see a sheet-toss onstage before, and what a thrill to see, gasps from the audience as Sancho Panza (Roman Simachev) was hurled into the air, and then in one toss, headfirst into the waiting sheet over and over!

Everyone seemed eager to join the fun. Daria Bochkova‘s  first Grand Pas variation was full of energy and lithe joie-de-vivre, and she was just one of many soloists and corps members who impressed.  This was a wonderful night of ballet, from a company at the top of their game. Even Lulu loved it!

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LINK

http://www.bolshoi.ru

http://www.bolshoi.ru/en/

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Betroffenheit-Sadler’s Wells – May 31 2016

How do you tell the story of a breakdown? You can either, Wozzeck like, show a man put upon, defeated, and we observers watch this downfall, or one can, as in this work, journey into a mind, to feel, to see and hear pain and trauma.

And “what a mind was here overthrown”, and what minds here elevate that to a work of substantial poetry. Crystal Pite, Kidd Pivot and Electric Company Theatre collaborate to bring one of the strangest yet powerful things I have seen on a stage.

Straight confessional would be boring, and best left to a psychologist’s couch. Stage movement here, whether acting or dancing, has to be metaphor for suffering. And there is, one gathers through the fractured, murky lines of text, in the dance, voice, music –  as one picks one’s way through a narrative anything but clear – suffering.

Why though? Why suffering? A little background reading after the show reveals it is co-creator Jonathon Young‘s catharsis, or rather, re-suffering. An act enacting pain as if to come to terms with it.

Part one is the phantasmagoria. The scene is set in what appears to be a sanatorium. It is peopled by non-sequitur and oddities.A  parody vaudeville act, Brazilian music and show girls, a spangly “King of Comedy”-esque duo (Young and the fantastic Jermaine Maurice Spivey) comes out to entertain. A tap-dancer (David Raymond) menaces Young. Playback voices cut up and judder and assault the ear.  Cartoon-esque nightmare figures grapple protagonist Young. A clown-woman (Tiffany Tregarthen, I believe) pushes a box onstage. Young climbs into it. She pushes it around a bit. It later comes back onstage to haunt him. Is this where he represses his pain? Or where he hides?

Dancers mime in grotesque over-the-top gestures to piped in dialog. Young engages in duologue with another speaker, perhaps himself. The speaker offers psychological babble to console him. There was much talk of “self directed, self percolating” outcomes, starts which became perpetual starts and hence fail. The duologue entangled in itself, chasing its own foundation and tail, and failing. Guilt strangles sense.

A philosopher said once “Perhaps I know best why it is man alone who laughs; he alone suffers so deeply that he had to invent laughter”. Nietzsche perhaps never thought laughter in the dark would be so chilling as here. Betroffenheit’s comedy only pushes alienation into one’s face. This is desperate life, despair from the depths of pain, laughter as defence.  Would that there was more laughter here, but it is not its remit. The comedy is levity, acutely judged, balanced and paced.

In performance and conception, Betroffenheit is resolutely post modern, Post-Bauschian. Bausch has involuted, shared insular worlds, festivals/spectacles of the absurd. Pite’s vision by contrast is here, the opposite: an engagement with a self: direct anxious questioning, a mind grappling with itself.

The insight into a mind fracturing then is painful, intensely so. Recursive, repeated patterns of recorded speech suggest nightmare of entrapment. This is not so much regression, as obsession. This is postmodern theatre and dance, and feels like it. It doesn’t so much pose question as demand them from the viewer. “Who is this man?” what’s happened to him?” and too a bit of “what’s going on?”. This is theatre of aporia.

After the havoc and chaos, the human spill of part one, came part two, which was here, almost pure dance. Here Pite’s dance language came to the fore, and Kidd Pivot thrilled. Jerky movements, group “strobing”, incredible synchronicity. The register was throughout kinetic, frantic, clamorous, exactly as the title of the piece connotes. Nuances of rictus crept in, disconcerting to watch.

Individual solos were graceful, articulate in design and expression, and group work was eye popping, the more so because I believe Mr Young has no formal dance training!

He was chased by the other dancers, pulled about as if a plaything, caught in time-freezing falls and poses, thrilling to see. Notable here was the animalistic trembling from all: palms on the floor, biceps quick-quivering in unison. Uncanny, un-human, almost. Young aped the same movement and was later left onstage alone. Head bowed, scampering on the floor slowly, he became devoid of face and thus became only form, movement: how quickly the mind forgets identity.

Spivey’s final solo showed off his remarkable skills, hints of “popping”, his facility with strobing, micromovements, and too, later, virtuoso tumbling and twirls and spins. All was mesmerising. One wonders, given Sellars’ same utilisation of dancers with street style as their focus, if similar dance forms might find poetic expression in contemporary theatre? I am thinking in particular of jookin’, whose grace and dignity or motion could lend grace and comment to anything which could so utilise it*.

Right near the end all that consoles Young is an embrace in the hush. Throughout, there has been depersonalisation, disorientation. Here, a moment of humane tenderness. Redemption, almost. One felt that in this quiet undisturbed by music, movement, audience noise, the moment would last for ever.

Watching Betroffenheit, one thinks of new syncretisms, new developments within the performing arts. It is thrilling to see the interstices of drama, comedy and dance create something so refreshingly whole. And technically, what a tour de force of theatre. Tom Visser‘s lighting demands precise cues and fast changes, a real workout I imagine for any technician. Nancy Bryant‘s costuming, 70’s sequins, showgirl feathers, modern-wear, nightmare-wear, must merely hint at her versatility and imagination. Owen Belton, Alessandro Juliani and Meg Roe‘s sound and composition underpin the whole strange work, sound in particular being used to amplify stage drama.

Granted, more could be done perhaps to explicate the meanings within the piece, especially in the first half. Its narrative, for those of us with no programmes was – purposefully? – opaque. This was less story than experience, sound and fury suggesting much. Nevertheless, it presented trauma from which one cannot turn away and, confronts us with dance of striking power of concept.It unsettles, and in art, sometimes that is to be applauded as it was here, by those who, realising what they had witnessed was brave and beautiful, cheered and applauded.

 

NOTE

 

*which is not to suggest these art forms “appropriate” it, merely that it deserves wider audiences, and the best way to do this might be to couch it in things people will go to see.

 

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Giselles – Cuthbertson, Bonelli – April 2 2016 (plus two other casts)

This was a Giselle full of fine moments and dramatic momentum. Lauren Cuthbertson is already spectrally pale, even as a peasant girl. One quickly realised that this was perhaps the frail, congenitally fated girl of the libretto, doomed to have a sad end, sword or no sword.

Her skips at her entrance were full of life and easy in their appearance of light grace, Cutbertson throughout proving herself a gifted actress. In the “cross dance” where the villagers form a charming rotating whirl, she looked giddy with love and happiness as she sought her man. Her delight in the moment was real and joyous. Her reaction to being made Queen of the Vintage by the assembled village was a beguiling “who, me?”;  her little hops on points in her small variation before the Queen were invested with joy and almost a coy pleasure at her own abilities, and her character’s love for her two-timing Loys/Albrecht was genuine.

Albrecht himself (Frederico Bonelli) was here played as rather an entitled cad. His dismissing of his squire  (Tomas Mock) with a penny from his coinpurse encapsulating his disdain for the lower class – except when pretty, female, young, like his Giselle. He and Cuthebretson made a beautiful couple.

Her “mad scene” (so common in opera of the era) was well done, the image of a shattered life showed in her expression. When she removed her hands from her face, and her face came into sight, she resembled almost a pale porcelain doll – a bit creepy in fact. One saw that her balance of mind was truly affected, forever. Her death scene and the moments leading up to it were fantastic, her moment of expiration clear and tragic. Bonelli acted grief well. The tumult around the events was given urgency by the fine corps de ballet.

As a point of fact, I must single out the remarkable Mayara Magri for her work here. Her acting, even as “just a villager” is superb. She is a true asset to the company. In narration of Berthe’s “beware the Wilis!” narrative, I had noticed her shivering in fear, terrified (I thought it improvised, but she does it at each performance, and yet it works every time). In her “come on, let’s dance!” moments with her village beau, or in amplifying onstage events by a glance, or a smile, she is pitch perfect. The corps here shared this same well honed ability to believe in the stage events and to reinforce their believability.

I noticed now how much Peter Wright favours dry ice for stage effects, and I am grateful he has used it. In his Swan Lake it is a memorable stage picture to see Swans emerge from its serene mask. Here, atmosphere in the Gothic woods, and subtle ethereality in the entrance of the wilis. Credit must go to revival lighting of David Finn, after Jennifer Tipton‘s original.

Claire Calvert‘s Myrtha was chilly in mein, but her shoes were rather squeaky. The two Russian ladies in front of me shook their heads in censure. I think Ms Calvert is a little too petite for the role, perhaps too favouring the a terre more than jetes and the writing for this role. This comment not to the diminishment of her conviction in the role, which was never less than full.

Wilis themselves were supernaturally “as one”. Drilling from either ballet mistress Samantha Raine or just repetition of performances brought a shared precision that was a delight to see. Bennet Gartside as Hilarion was excellent, his dance to death full of desperation and appeal. One felt sorry for him almost, but myth and fairytale has a way of punishing everyone, bad guys especially.

Memorably fine was the moment Giselle made a protective cross in front of Albrecht. For proportion, as an aesthetic picture, beautiful. In its being, it was invested with a hope and love almost palpable, and clarion clear: Cuthbertson’s face uplifted in hope, Bonelli’s fixed, a challenge to Myrtha who retreated from this unity of souls. Love defeating evil: rather the epitome of Romantic art. I am moved just recalling it.

Bonelli’s subsequent entrechats were high and brisk, his panting and exertion probably real but adding to the effect. The moment the bell tolled, Wilis and Giselle looked to the sound as one. I have rarely seen the parting scene done so well. Giselle as wisp, as dream. Albrecht hoping he might retain her embrace, that she might live.

Cutherbertson produced the little “pense-à-moi” marguerite flower at the end truly from nowhere, itself a magical moment. Bonelli’s expression was one of pain at her loss, then wonderment, then redemption. A strong showing from him, from everyone.

The cheers all received at curtain were well deserved. I join them here, in celebration.

 

Bonus material!

Prior to this performance I had seen two other casts: Marianella Nuñéz and Vadim Muntagirov (March 22), and Steven McRae and Iana Salenko (March 19 matinee).

McRae and Salenko gave an effortlessly technical tour-de-force as one would expect.  I recall well McRae’s”wafting lifts” of Salenko in the Act II pas de deux, which achieved an illusion of ballon and weightlessness the other couples didn’t quite manage.  It helps that she is only five foot two or three of course. Salenko once more showed her skill for the adagio, which is not to say her skills elsewhere are minor!

I would have enjoyed a meaner Hilarion (Valentino Zuchetti) but I think Myrtha (Helen Crawford) was perhaps technically  the strongest I have seen of the three casts, and her revulsion at the pair’s love was well drawn.

Berthe was Kristen McNally, and her mime was chilling, clearly phrased and lucidly performed. I think she may have just “beaten” the other cast’s Elizabeth McGorian in the spooky stakes – and for subtle hairpin removal! I believe she may well be the company’s most gifted character artist (aside from the wonderful Gary Avis…)

I didn’t quite feel the romance there, but McRae kept the story alive and moving, his acting was especially good. It must be difficult to produce that type of grief and loss each night, and he did well.

The pas de six went by splendidly, James Hay catching the eye for his security of technique and well placed execution. His variation truly gave the appearance of effortless flight. Beautiful to watch. Matthew Ball drew the eye too, by virtue of his height, and because of his strong abilities in the brief dual male variation. Coordination from all was excellent.

The pas de six cast on March 22 was luxuriant: among them, Yuhui Choe, Francesca Hayward, Alexander Campbell, Marcelino Sambé, Yasmine Naghdi and Luca Acri. Campbell released his inner Bluebird at times, Choe and he were delightfully musical. Sambé was impressive in his jumps as ever, and Hayward dancing charmingly throughout, fascinating to watch next to Naghdi. Acri full of élan was icing on that balletic cake, rich and enjoyable fare.

And of course, Marianella Nuñéz and Vadim Muntagirov were our leads. Nuñéz has I believe cited Giselle as a dream role for her, after being celebrated as a great Myrtha. Here she was every bit the vivacious peasant girl in Act I.In the mad scene she really drew the story up a level or two, hair flying all over in a mania of pain. Her Giselle died rather loosely though. I liked Cutherbetson’s hand and arm outstretched, which Salenko shared.

Muntagirov’s “check my new threads!” mime was beautiful in itself, his puffed out chest sent his  long line flowing, and beautiful. Those same finely crafted hands were used to great effect in his Act II variation, some of the finest dancing I have seen for a long time. These classical roles really suit him. Itziar Mendziabal‘s Myrtha had a wobble to start, and was felt a bit rushed, and I wonder how happy she was with her dancing afterwards, but as with all other Myrtha’s I have seen, she definitely suited the role when acting it.

Wright’s production is a pleasure to see, and regularly graces Covent Gardens stage. There are still a few shows left at time of writing, and it is sure to return. I recommend it.

 

 

@Ballet_CBC’s The Sleeping Beauty – March 16 2016 – Chelmsford Civic Theatre

Chelmsford Ballet Company’s Sleeping Beauty is a charming affair, and whilst it may not (nor should it) have the same technical standards of for instance, the Royal Ballet, its intent is the same and it is noble: to edify, to entertain, to promote the joy of dance. This it does and does well. From all, there were smiles. From dancers, dedication was apparent, visible, inspiring. From  non- dancer to advanced skill level, this creation of dance warmed the small stage of the Chelmsford Civic Theatre.

It helped that from principal and lead roles, the dancing was game, and more than that, it was impressive. Scarlett Mann‘s Aurora was delightfully acted and strongly danced. I gather she is still young, very much in Aurora’s age-range. Her petulance at being asked by her mother to hand over the dangerous spindle was memorably done, her joy at impending matrimony lit up her face – and the stage too. I liked her sunny renversés, and was especially impressed with her use of the eyes to spot each potential placement. Each ascent of arm and leg was anticipated by that sophisticated, essential almost “spotting”, the steps given greater life as a result.

As Prince Florimund, support was ably given from Andrei Iliescu. All pirouettes were secure in his hands, and tour de promenades glowed with security and confidence. I liked Ms Mann’s light port de bras, especially in positioning for turns. In fact, she exuded confidence throughout, and even though towards the end, where I guessed she might perhaps be tiring a bit, she never gave less than everything of herself for the role, and her easy smile didn’t fade.

I had wondered if the famous Rose Adagio would have been modified to fit any skill-set the dancer had. Not too noticeably in fact. The chivalry was present and correct from all cavaliers (a gentleman in white trous noticeably fine in his reverence). The famous balances,  the high reaching feet, the slow pirouettes were all in place and well given. The grand Pas then? Was that subject to major changes? Some:  I was happy to see no fishdives, and in fact, so too I was happy not to have fouettés for fouettés sake.

Costumes were wonderfully lavish, all courtiers looked well appointed and the principals’ outfits were a delight, and would have been whatever stage they graced:  nicely sparkling, gleaming in pure white and gold. Fairy costumes were well made, with Lilac Fairy’s given good care and attention, apparent even from my balcony seat. Fairytale characters were vividly clothed and if fey, appropriately garbed. Wolf was for instance, far better costumed than the production I saw a week ago. Notable were Bluebird’s delightful “wings”, and in fact Florine’s outfit entire. If these were not hired-in clothes then, seamstresses of Chelmsford and beyond, tailors hunched over costumes nightly, I salute you! Standout too were the many pseudo-Hungarian(?) garbed corps for the final act; Carabosse’s costume and all supernumeraries, right down to the delightful little “sprites” and Carabosse’s devilish entourage.

I must also now mention here how utterly charming it was to see stage-going stars so young perform so well, and with seriousness and enjoyment. Little sprites perhaps no more than five years old lent charm and mercurial delight to Act II’s vision sequence, the choreography of which, with ranks of fairies indicating the direction for Prince to go, I thought well made and executed.  The narrative sense of this scene came through clearly. It was a nice conceit to have the Prince sit on stage and be lost in thought, only for the woodland spirits to flit around him unnoticed. The show was full of these ingenious moments serving to advance the drama, ingenious because to solve questions of what to do with dancers who aren’t all world class super-athletes, and the more so for being subtle, innovative and successful.

It was lovely to see for instance, from another well done assemblage of fairies, the individual fairy variations carefully choreographed to suit strengths. I was impressed by each. “Force” Fairy was sharply pointed and sprightly, “Canary” Fairy delightfully ebullient, and “Breadcrumb” Fairy notable for her accurate pointe-attack and upper body control.  Lilac Fairy herself had a tiny wobble very close to the start of her show, which I think affected her confidence for a bit, but she recovered well, to bring us a fairy of poise and class. Brava. Admirable performances in all ways, especially from dancers so young.

The shared enjoyment from all was palpable. At all “feats” and displays of skill, the assembled onlookers did a wonderful job of amplifying the action by interested hand gestures, “talking” to one another, a sight very fine to see.The garland dance featured a similar level of complex, en masse work which was good to see from all. Excellent lighting served to illustrate the scenes well, and I was very taken for once by the clever use of video projection to suggest Lilac Fairy’s descending enchantment. I will remember her bourrée-ing almost into eternity as the vines grew around the Kingdom for a long time. Too, the ensemble had one of the best “chaos” scenes post finger-pricking I have seen from a Sleeping Beauty production, and not because the stage at the Civic is so small but due to the director’s careful stagecraft and I am quite sure, the hard work of rehearsal.

When the Prince finally arrived at the castle and awoke the princess, dramatic tension was milked, successfully. A pause, post-kiss. No reaction. Had the spell failed? No! She awoke, and the reaction from all was excellent. The fairytale creatures variations followed, and I enjoyed Bluebird’s soft landings, his dedication to each phrase and statement. There was briefly, even a rather daring flying catch successfully executed, and a surprise to see. As with the Prince, this Bluebird was a safe pair of hands with his charge, partnering secure throughout.  There was good unity from all”gem” fairies, the Sapphire and Silver Fairies notable for their maturity of expression and technique. I very much enjoyed Wolf’s jumps and Red Riding Hood’s characterisation, and it was a great idea to include a tiny mouse into the “cat” pas de deux*.

I think back fondly on Ms Mann’s variation from the Grand Pas, the “unwinding hands” lithe and travels en pointe graceful, he r eyes again lending weight and dramatic force to the text. The matrimonial scene was suitably grand, Aurora coming back on-stage in a very long veil complete with two veil holders, and the ending pose – a long held arabesque en pointe for Aurora – was a brave choice, and winningly deployed.

I was thoroughly charmed by this show, it had a sense of real community enterprise but more than that, it was a thoroughgoing joy. The Chelmsford Ballet Company state they “are an amateur company who set professional standards for all our work”. “Amateur” is after all derived from a word for “heart” and too means to show a love of the doing and the achieving. With this Sleeping Beauty, Chelmsford Ballet achieved and achieved with heart. I applaud you all.

NOTES

*All credit to the makeup department for some fantastic cat make up!

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Sleeping Beauty – The Russian State Ballet of Siberia – March 12 2016 – Ipswich Regent

To those used to the standards of different (read: ‘better’) companies, the Russian State Ballet of Siberia’s Sleeping Beauty might not quite make the grade. Used as those viewers may be to companies who don’t need to tour as much, who enjoy facilities (as well as living arrangements!) which are constant, who regularly watch  world-leading artistic standards from world leading exponents, they might then judge the company the poorer by comparison. Wouldn’t everyone seem the poorer?

That this company brings ballet to regions and towns and cities which might know the art form only live cinema transmissions  or from  watching Youtube clips is a fact to be applauded. I saw dance students in the audience at the Regent eager to see their nascent art-form danced with maturity and attainment, by dancers used to the virtue of long training and hard work. Expectations were largely satisfied.
So of course, being a touring company who must adapt to a different theatre nearly every two or three nights, the RSBoS’s production values aren’t the highest. Dmitry Tcherbadzhi‘s backdrops look slightly psychedelic (Act II’s woodland glade so psychotropic as to suggest the dancers there had been eating certain mushrooms therein). Yes, the Doric columns on the wings were fabric, and the illusion wobbled when a dancer bashed into one, setting it rippling in distinctly un-marmoreal splendour, but this is a touring production which can’t practically tour with grand sets or accoutrements. Yes, also I thought some of the mens’ wigs looked a bit tired. (And as to the bizarre shoulder escutcheons they were sporting, the less said the better. Even the Queen (Vera Surovtseva) was sporting these great sproutages of lace and wire, distorted and grotesque, as fairy-tales themselves often work on reality). By and large though, the costumes (by Tcherbadzhi too) were actually rather nice, the peasant outfits from Act II lovely, and notable was Yaroslava Nagumanova’s skirt, a hybrid between bell and tutu, semi-structured to move from pleats the only, and looking wonderful as a result. (That it showed Ms Nagumanova’s noticeable fine standard of dancing was an added bonus. Simple chained turns had added luxury of motion and progression: tightly controlled fabric allied to tightly controlled technique.)

I enjoyed choreographer Sergei Bobrov‘s innovations in the Prologue, the blooms and whirl of fairy lifts were well done, and for audiences, little wings made it rather apparent just who we were looking at here. (He really put the ‘fairy’ in ‘fairytale’!). Not hard to miss Olesya Aldonina as Lilac Fairy though, her long line stood out – as unfortunately did her slightly dour expression at times. I like my fairies to be munificent, benevolent, and Ms Aldonina’s fairy didn’t quite seem to be feeling those things on the day.  The tempo for her variation was also noticeably slow which didn’t help matters too much, but it was not a big problem, she danced with good expression, her generous arms scooped gathering forces of goodness and she fluttered out travelling pas de bourrées of delicacy.

All fairies (Mana Kuwabara, Elena Lapina, Yana Tugaeva, Chitose Tscuhia) danced nicely, and yes, some pointing for ‘Pointy Fairy’ could have been sharper for instance, or fingers more mobile for Canary’s variation but I have memories of other dancers who have more time to study and perfect those small elements.  It became apparent here that in all the dancing one wished for a bigger stage for the dancers to relax into longer chains of turns and steps. Commonly they had only begun to do so, wen they foudn themselves out of room.

Pavel Kirchev‘s Carabosse was malevolent without appearing pantomimic and overcooked. A little more mobility in the face would have helped; some better work from the eyes, or expressions showing greater internal narrative.His mime was a bit rushed, especially the “when she grows up” section but nevertheless, it was a nicely given characterisation, though I could have done without the costume choices for his bizarre rat-ish entourage.

Act I brought the arrival of our Aurora, Anna Fedosova. She quickly showed her prowess in the allegro register, possessing a cleverness of attack and lovely light hands which made her stand out from the crowd. Her Rose Adagio saw a flower-head come loose and fall away, and featured some very close partnering work on the supports for Aurora’s balances. I would have preferred more of an open partnering here, but perhaps this closeness was to shorten the balances, and to mask support? In all elements Fedosova was secure. Her variation here was greeted with applause from our half full theatre, which tapered away and stopped, for her only to bow again and for applause to start again. Rather awkward, but how easily one forgets: each relevé, each turn, each position is effort, and even the smallest of jumps is a physical cost, which sums up to fatigue. Perhaps Ms Fedosova wanted that small chance to catch a breath.

Act III saw our introduction to the young Daniil Kostylev as Prince Désiré. Mr Kostylev seems a little too young for the role as yet (the site lists him as a member of the corps de ballet) and his Désiré was slightly anonymous. I found little investment in his variation, or sense of its narrative. He is to be commended for dancing the role, and suffered only from my opinions formed by watching others.

The vision scene was rather truncated, but Fedosova showed herself as a dream-bound Aurora very nicely. No real journeying scene was in evidence, and Lilac Fairy’s intervention to get to the castle was a bit perfunctory.The curtain fell for a scene change (backcloth change) only to rise a short time after to reveal four cavaliers holding Aurora all on bended knee. It seems not only was she doomed to sleep for ever, but without so much as a bed to do so! The awakening scene was more a case of bringing live statues to life, this Désiré had the solution to hand without thinking about it, and the wedding was a foregone conclusion, to make way for the fairytale character’s variations.

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The Russian State Ballet of Siberia in Sleeping Beauty. (Centre: Kiriil Starkov as Cattalbutte)

Mana Kuwabara’s sunniness carried over from her Violente Fairy into her Princess Florine. She had lovely landings and a birdlike delicate line which became her. Her Bluebird (Georgiy Bolsnovskiy) suffered from some “corkscrew arms”as he worked through his entrechats and the second variation would have benefited from more discipline in his arm placement. It seems hard for a tall man to show Bluebird’s lightness, hence the challenge of the role, which Bolsnoskiy clearly tackled with no reservations.

Chitose Tschcia’s White Cat was cutely done. Her tiny feet lent a touch of believability to the role and her characterisation was strong. No tails in the costume for her or her Puss-in Boots (Denis Pogorelyy) which I missed, but his very Russian shrug at is failing to capture his dream-girl brought a laugh from all.

Of Yaroslava Nagumanova I have already spoken, and of her dress too. She was stand-out in all she did. There was clarity of intent, a gift for acting and comedy, which made her a treat to watch. Alexy Balva‘s Wolf was undistinguished by having been made to wear a hat with a big protruding wolf snout on it. Easier to dance in one may think, but rather odd to see. Cinderella (Anna Adreeva)’s Prince (incorrectly listed as Kostylev again) was noble and tall, and I found myself thinking him more suited for Désiré at least in mein.

Separate, brief stumbles from Fedesova and Kostylev in the Grand Pas showed just how unforgiving their schedules must be. I didn’t really like the red glitter in Prince Desire’s hair, but celebrated the fact there were no fishdives – until the end, where one was attempted, just about passed, and then quickly resolved to avert slipping. Aurara’s ending of diagonal turns was lovely, as was the final pose at curtain call. The Regent had enjoyed a ballet not so much regal as trouper.

Musically I was satisfied. In the introduction, more majesty from the brass, more opulence from strings would have been appreciated. As it was, the Russian State Ballet of Siberia Orchestra sounded more confident than when I had heard them in Nutcracker a few weeks ago (in Norwich). One or two moments of slippage, of sections not quite in agreement with each other were apparent, conductor Alexander Yudasin‘s control of their very modest (touring) forces otherwise secure. I missed the huge gong crash of Lilac Fairy’s enchantment falling on the Kingdom. Normal cymbals didn’t quite cut it. Still, I was grateful for the live music. A few other touring companies must resort to pre-recorded music for reasons of cost, and that’s always a shame.

If you miss the ballet, or wish to see your first live, a show from the Russian State Ballet of Siberia is a good place to go.

 

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The Nutcracker – Nunez, Muntagirov, Hayward, – January 8 2016 – The Royal Ballet

The main event here for me was to see Vadim Muntagirov.  The role he was performing is light on content, being truly a supporting role – that of partnering Marianela Núñez gallantly. The demands of the performance, the classical stylings and steps are firmly within his comfort zone, and allowed him to display his considerable skill to good effect.

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The Nutcracker – English National Ballet -Rojo, Gouneo, Westwell – January 2 2016

Once more Eagling’s production charmed its audience. And I was – with a few minor reservations – included.

With ENB’s boss Tamara Rojo cast as Clara, the matinee seemed in sure hands. Things went a bit awry during the snowball throwing moments, a particularly bouncy and stubborn snowball just kept on returning to the stage, as if unwilling to leave the spotlight. (It was probably on loan from the Bolshoi theatre). That said, the skating clowning was the best I have seen it, but by God, falling like that every day and night must take it’s toll. Bravi to the intrepid skaters.*

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Romeo and Juliet – Núñez, Soares, Underwood – The Royal Ballet – Nov 20 2015

Throughout Act I Marianela Núñez‘s Juliet appeared more Núñez than Juliet. It seemed this was a naturalism verging on not-quite-trying but then the approach became more defined, more invested and consequently more affecting in Acts II and III. Passion and grief are Nuñez’s professional tessitura – as well as beautiful form and athleticism.

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Tanztheater Wuppertal Pina Bausch – Ahnen – Sadler’s Wells, April 26th 2015

What a disappointment. Especially after last week’s memorable and thought-provoking “Gebirge”. Where that piece was bleak, moving, involving, a howl of human emptiness, Ahnen was nothing compelling and nothing powerful. Ill-knit and aimless, it was perhaps the biggest waste of three hours I have ever spent watching anything. Halfway through act II I could barely bring myself to take any more notes, and at the end, to collate them.)

Indulge me (as Tanztheater Wuppertal asked for last night) as I compile A List of Things That Happen in Ahnen:
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Auf dem Gebirge hat man ein Geschrei gehört – Tanztheater Wuppertal, Sadler’s Wells, April 18th 2015

Things That Happen in Bausch’s “Auf dem Gebirge hat man ein Geschrei gehört”

  • A woman buries a chair in soil
  • A man dressed as a lifeguard blows up multiple balloons until they burst. He later makes a sandwich out of his own arm complete with garnish.
  • A woman polishes shoes as a crowd race around her
  • A seated woman screams for about two minutes, as a man runs and leaps over her a lot
  • Twenty-four fir trees are hauled onstage, then off again
  • A live brass band plays an early 20th Century German tune whilst a woman slaps and hits herself forcefully.
  • A man plays “Cry Me a River” for a few bars, then stops, each time removing an article of clothing.
  • A woman is swathed in bandages until she can only waddle, like a mummy, then chases people.
  • A man stalks the stage with a rubber band around his nose.
  • A guy plays percussion on the buttocks of his fellow cast-members.

Swan Lake, this ain’t.

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