Bare Bones in The 5 Man Show
Siobhan Davies Studios, November 7, 2006.
To mark the fifth anniversary of Bare Bones, the contemporary dance group based at Birmingham’s Dance Exchange, the company have been touring the country with a new triple bill of works by Arthur Pita, Liam Steel, and artistic director David Massingham under the title The 5 Man Show. I caught the company on November 7 at the new Siobhan Davies Studios in Elephant and Castle, South East London towards the end of the tour.
Each piece has been devised for an ensemble of five excellent male dancers (Neb Abbott, River Carmalt, Andrew Cowan, Omar Gordon, with Matthew Winston replacing John Thompson at this performance), which can be performed in numerous adaptable venues around the country. With eye-catching images of semi-male nudity reproduced on the publicity material, and the promise that the production is “suitable for audiences aged 16yrs+ as some of the work contains strong language and themes of an adult nature” the audience at the Siobhan Davies Studios consisted, almost inevitably, of contemporary dance die-hards and a high proportion of gay men (some of whom, of course, were both).
At the Siobhan Davies Studios the works were performed “in the square”, with the audience placed on seats around the edges of the studio walls. In the event, the show promised more than it delivered, and did itself no favours by placing the best and most cohesive work, Arthur Pita’s …And Then Gone, at the beginning of the programme. In …And Then Gone five louche guys dressed in black suits enter the performing area one by one to a jazzy show tune. They leer at members of the audience, shout “hey!” to one another, strut, and caress parts of their bodies in a kind of sexualised come-on. Are they gigolos, catwalk models, or rent boys? – I wasn’t entirely sure. After teasing the audience in this way, the men exit and re-enter to a brassy composition by Leonard Bernstein, this time wearing nothing but black underpants, socks, suspenders, and black patent shoes. But now the men take on the persona of extravagant circus acrobats or burlesque performers, performing daring lifts and jumps, rolls on the floor and energetic runs around the stage. At the end, the men take off theirs shoes and throw them into the centre of the stage, as if to say “that’s all folks!”. The work is madcap and funny, with a hint of danger, as some of the routines are performed perilously close to members of the audience – some of whom, I am sure, appreciated the opportunity of an even closer look at the dancers.
The sombre centre of the evening was David Massingham’s With The Company We Keep, an oddly clumsy work consisting of a series of duets and ensembles where the dancers almost embrace, lift each other, move away and come together in ever changing partnerships. The maudlin music (Howard Skempton’s Lento), which, apparently, was not the inspiration for the dance, made the work seem earnest, doom laden, and dull.
Liam Steel’s Crazy Gary is a work that includes a spoken text by Gary Owen (extracts from Crazy Gary’s Mobile Disco), and explores various themes of heterosexual masculinity in “lad’s” culture. The work is a cruel take on men trying to pick up girls at a disco, and there is an ever-present undercurrent of suppressed violence. But this piece has all the hallmarks of a DV8 production, especially of Enter Achilles, in which Steel was a memorable performer. The anger, the spectacularly acrobatic and dangerous looking lifts and jumps, and the almost pathetically weak characters of the men is a theme that has been explored by others before, far more successfully. And quite frankly, the dancers simply did not convince me as actors as they attempted to come to terms with the crudities of the spoken text.
The Joffrey Ballet in Cinderella
Auditorium Theatre, Chicago
One has to grab any opportunity there is nowadays to see an Ashton ballet; even The Royal Ballet, which after the centenary celebration of 2004 might be thought to have restored his works to the ascendancy in its repertory that they deserve, now appears only grudgingly to offer a few performances of Rhapsody early in 2007, and of Symphonic Variations towards the end of the season. The Joffrey Ballet, now based in Chicago, presented its own production of Cinderella early in October, and it was worth braving the vicissitudes of air travel to catch the first night. In any case, it is always a pleasure to attend a performance in the superb Auditorium Theatre, one of the city’s many architectural treasures.
The Joffrey Ballet has a long history as the chief American repository of Ashton’s ballets. Robert Joffrey had a special relationship with Sir Frederick: he was able to acquire the first American production of The Dream, as long ago as 1973. Moreover, the Joffrey is the only company outside The Royal Ballet organisation to have danced A Wedding Bouquet, and it is now the only American company to present Cinderella. This was Joffrey’s long-held wish, now realised, 18 years after his death, by his successor as artistic director, Gerald Arpino.
Cinderella has been staged by Wendy Ellis Somes, who owns the rights to the ballet, and Christopher Carr. There were nine performances, with four casts. Joffrey always wanted Gary Chryst and Christian Holder, company veterans, to play the Stepsisters, and they returned as guest artists in all but one of the casts. Holder was properly vain and overbearing in Robert Helpmann’s original role (like others who have assumed it, he overdid it at times), but it was Chryst, in Ashton’s, who found his own characterization – sweet and winsome, even rather pretty, but with occasional flashes of temper.
Maia Wilkins, as Cinderella, had not quite internalised the emotions of the first act, but in the second both she and Willy Shives, as the Prince, touchingly expressed their wonder at the miraculous turn of events they find themselves caught up in. Both their pas de deux, the first in the ballroom scene with its exquisite dying fall, and the second, shorter one at the end of the ballet, had all the tenderness one hoped for. Ashton, as always, gives us more than a ballerina and her partner – the poignancy of two young people falling in love.
One of the things that have gone from this ballet is the faintly sinister atmosphere of the ball – rather reminiscent of Night Shadow (La sonnambula), which Ashton could have seen in the production by the Cuevas Grand Ballet de Monte Carlo the year before he made Cinderella. Shives is an excellent actor (both he and Gary Chryst were marvellous as the Bridegroom in the Joffrey’s Wedding Bouquet – and curiously, Shives here plays Cinderella’s father in another cast), and could have conveyed the Prince’s sense of oppression from which the advent of Cinderella has rescued him.
Also long lost, of course, is the ambiguous character of the Jester, as played originally by Alexander Grant, the Prince’s boon companion, who sadly watched the departure of the lovers at the end – he doesn’t even appear in the last scene any more. Now he is more like one of those pesky Jesters in Soviet Swan Lakes. Calvin Kitten dances the part brilliantly enough (he was a fine Puck in the Joffrey Dream), but I can’t help wishing that someone would ask Grant to help bring back the nuances of this role.
The choreographic heart of this ballet, in addition to those pas de deux, lies in the dances of the fairies of the seasons and the ballabili of the Stars, products, no doubt, of those private lessons from Marius Petipa that Ashton used to say he received at performances of The Sleeping Beauty. All these were beautifully realised: I especially liked Kathleen Theilhelm as Summer and Jennifer Goodman as Autumn, both of them bendy enough to satisfy Ashton himself, and Valerie Robin, as Winter, spreading a film of ice with her ronds de jambe.This production is set in the third of the four Royal Ballet designs, those by David Walker from 1987, subsequently used by Dutch National Ballet and the Royal Swedish Ballet. They are not ideal, though preferable to the most recent Royal version. There is no hope, presumably, of resurrecting the original 1948 designs by Jean-Denis Malclès; of later versions, I would rather see the second, by Henry Bardon and David Walker, with its beautifully painted drops. I wish I could have seen this revival later in the run, when it had shaken down somewhat, but already it is a worthy addition to the Joffrey’s list of Ashton revivals.
Birmingham Royal Ballet in Stravinsky!
A Celebration and Romeo and Juliet at Sadler’s Wells,
Birmingham Royal Ballet’s Stravinsky programme was the unexpected hit of this Sadler’s Wells season. Triple bills are proverbially hard to sell, but ticket sales were brisk, audiences friendly.
This season has brought a crop of new dancers, including the Estonian Linnar Looris, whom I saw as Balanchine’s Apollo. This was a sure, confident performance. Like the rest of his new company, Looris approaches this masterpiece with a respect that can be too polite. I’d like bolder, brighter rhythm from all the dancers. But Looris dances strongly, his steps cleanly articulated, while his gestures are lucid and well-timed. Virginia de Gersigny was a crisp Terpsichore, with Momoko Hirata and Laura Purkiss lively in the handmaidens’ dances.
As Mary Clarke reported from Birmingham in the June issue of Dancing Times, Kim Brandstrup’s new Pulcinella is lost in murk, half-hidden by Steven Scott’s looming set and dim lighting. But the disappointment goes beyond the design. Brandstrup’s choreography dithers along to Stravinsky’s vivid score. Steps are huddled together, making fluent but shapeless numbers. If Brandstrup gave his images room to breathe, they might register more strongly. As it is, they’re lost in the muddle. Still, it’s tailored to these dancers. Led by Robert Parker and Ambra Vallo, the whole company looks lively and bright.
I rushed to see Carol-Anne Millar in The Firebird, having heard splendid reports of her Birmingham debut. She’s a bold dancer, with a high, bounding jump. You can see her power, as well as her aerial quality, as she soars through the enchanted garden. Millar sometimes exaggerates her facial expressions, eyes glaring, but it’s good to see a Firebird so fierce, so furious at her captivity. Jamie Bond was a fine Ivan Tsarevich, caught up in the ballet’s fairytale world. As in Birmingham, Barry Wordsworth conducted a rousing performance from the Royal Ballet Sinfonia: exhilarating in the infernal dance, grand in the glorious finale. ZA
Fresh from the success of their “Ballet Changed My Life: Ballet Hoo” project (see Dancing Times November issue), Birmingham Royal Ballet brought their production of Kenneth MacMillan’s Romeo and Juliet to Sadler’s Wells at the conclusion of their week-long season. Not having seen their Romeo for quite a number of years, I was eager to reacquaint myself with BRB’s production. It was good to see the ballet again with a different “look” (especially as Nicholas Georgiadis’ final redesign of the ballet in 2000 was far less successful, in my opinion, than his earlier versions), and it was good to see how well BRB perform the ballet. I had forgotten the beauty of the late Paul Andrews designs. Based on Italian renaissance paintings and frescoes, the sets are similar and yet entirely unlike the more grandiose Georgiadis designs at Covent Garden, and the costumes are authentically rich in texture and hue. The market place and the Capulet’s ballroom are a marvellous hive of activity, and Andrews’ placement of the more intimate scenes at the front of the stage helps focus the audience’s attention on the drama – especially in Juliet’s bedroom.
On the evening of October 28, BRB presented a young cast of dancers in the principal roles, some of who had also appeared in the “Ballet Hoo” televised performance. Jenna Roberts, a seemingly natural MacMillan dancer, performed with youthful sweetness and strength of purpose, most notably in her determined and headstrong account of Act III. She was well partnered by Jamie Bond, whose virile and sturdy dancing could not disguise the fact that he does not quite, as yet, have the stamina for so arduous a role as Romeo.
Australian born Alexander Campbell (a dancer new to me) was an excellent Mercutio, who gave, quite simply, the best performance of the difficult ballroom solo I have seen in years. He made it look flexible, nuanced and humorous – unlike many of his stodgy predecessors. Also outstanding was Tyrone Singleton, who made much of the usually bland character of Paris. Handsome and noble, he showed with clarity the increasing humiliation that Paris felt each time Juliet snatched her hand away before he could kiss it. This was well–judged and sensitive performance from an intelligent artist.
The company as a whole were on very good form, and Joseph Caley as the lead in the Mandolin Dance was exceptional. JG
Dutch National Ballet in Jewels
During the last ten years George Balanchine’s Jewels has gradually become one of the standards of the classical repertory to which any self-respecting troupe should aspire. More and more companies around the world acquire Balanchine’s 1967 plotless triptych and enchant new audiences with its evocation of precious stones subtly linked to the three dance cultures closest to the choreographer – French romanticism, American neoclassicism and the Imperial Russian Ballet.
Now, Dutch National Ballet has followed the example of San Francisco Ballet, Pacific Northwest Ballet and Hamburg Ballet – to name only the recent ones. The Amsterdam-based company boasts a repertory of no fewer than 25 Balanchine ballets and had already performed both Rubies (Capriccio) and Diamonds as individual works. The full-length production, premiered at the Muziektheater on September 8, was supervised by Patricia Neary (Rubies), Elyse Borne and Eve Lawson (Emeralds and Diamonds) from the Balanchine Trust. Costumes were faithfully recreated from the Karinska originals – the Trust purportedly disapproved of Christian Lacroix’s designs for the Paris Opéra staging – yet on the other hand Toer Van Schayk was given carte blanche for the décor, and the results here were far more disagreeable than Lacroix’s designs for Paris.
In what seems like a pointless attempt to make the ballet more contemporary as much as a regrettable lack of faith in the choreography, Van Schayk devised a huge web consisting of three elements in polished steel connected by white elastic cables extending over the stage and supposed to imitate the facets of cut gems. To make matters worse, he couldn’t resist the temptation to occasionally rearrange the web in between scenes in order to create a new shape. Even more distracting were his backdrops with different colour projections for each ballet. The vertical green and blue bands in Emeralds clashed with the austere green of the Karinska costumes, while in Rubies he applied horizontal blue and red. The dark blue at the bottom was another unfortunate decision, since it created in combination with the lighting the optical illusion that the male dancers moving in front of it had green hair. The Diamonds backdrop was kept uniform blue, but even that proved detracting from the overall white.
In a performance during the second week I found the ensemble overall well rehearsed. The corps was fine, yet a fundamental issue in staging Jewels today is the casting of the solo parts, and the Dutch National wasn’t entirely successful in facing that either.
In Emeralds (danced with Balanchine’s later 1976 coda) first soloists Ruta Jezerskyte and Cédric Ygnace caught the soft-edged, nostalgic atmosphere rather well. Entirely to their credit they didn’t approach the duet as a declaration of love, but kept a totally convincing decorum. Anna Seidl has enough maturity and experience to provide contrast in the second ballerina role, but unfortunately her hard plastique and broken lines were out of place. The promenade with Nicolas Rapaic was brusque and lacked delicacy and mystery.
Soloists Ji-Young Kim and Félipe Diaz were well matched in Rubies even if their attitude remained much too formal – but then again one might say they didn’t fall into the trap of easy exhibitionism either. Sujet Michele Jimenez is a new face in the company. Small and thus cast against type, she also lacked, as yet, the personality and strength to give the crucial second ballerina its full due.
Diamonds highlighted the company’s ballerina who is by any means in the best position to evoke the grandeur of the Russian classicism of Petipa. Larissa Lezhnina has now been dancing for 12 years with the Dutch National, but she still stands out by the qualities, which made her such a favourite among Kirov ballerinas. The intensity of her reading beautifully revealed the latent drama in choreography and music. Never emphatic in technique, yet always harmonious of form and manner, delicate of phrasing and musicality, Lezhnina also displayed grandeur and majesty in the closing polonaise. Her partner Tamás Nagy, tall and lean, was a fine cavalier, if more memorable for his partnering than for his solo dancing.
Boris Gruzin from St. Petersburg’s Maryinsky conducted a somewhat uneven Holland Symfonia. Fauré in Emeralds sounded uncharacteristically rough, with prominent brass, while Tchaikovsky in Diamonds remained rather polite.
All in all, an auspicious start for the ballet season in Amsterdam (which will include other gems like La Bayadère, in the version by Natalia Makarova), even if it is clear that these jewels need some time and polishing before they will attain their true value
By Marc Haegeman
Yorkshire Dance Centre, Leeds
Wherever the Ascendance Rep dancers perform there is always an expectant atmosphere, indeed a collective hum of anticipation. The company delights and cheers. Its mission is to reach out and this it does, thoughtfully and entertainingly. The company has created its own audiences through performances in art galleries, museums, libraries, bookshops and even on railway station platforms. Curious people stopped, enquired as to what was happening and then they stayed around for the remainder of the performance. As a consequence the company’s theatre dates are attracting people new to theatre and new to contemporary dance in theatres. Their touring programmes are attractive to newcomers to dance and at the same time there is are intellectual and emotional depths to challenge the more experienced.
For the company’s “Chaps” tour there are two items first seen last year. Both have felt the benefit of studied revision and of being shaped for new dancers. Social Disease is the work of the young but artistically fast maturing choreographer Gary Clarke and The Up and Down People is a piece devised by Tom Roden with much input from the dancers. Then comes Jan De Schynkel’s dramatic The Habitual Welders.
Clarke’s quirky, dark and comic piece has the four dancers in Andy Warhol wigs, trade mark shades and pirate sweaters. They line cornflakes packets in a neat row. They strut and pose and posture and pout and grip bananas between their teeth. They are self-obsessed and they are terribly self-conscious.
Enter the Up and Down People. Here the dancers are recumbent and are moving as if they are pedalling. They squat; they spring and then come down. Are they up or down or somewhere in between? Each dancer creates an enigmatic persona and the contradictions grow.
Words play their part. Anna Bjerre Larsen introduces her fellow dancers, telling us that one is “into techno” as if she is confiding an innermost secret. New recruit Paul Wilkinson recalls seeing old school friends on a railway platform and wondering why they were all “looking up”. Marie Hallager Andersen decides to seek relief by climbing up a tree. Feeling decidedly “up” she then puzzles over how to get down.
The Habitual Welders stirs thoughts about relationships and has space for personal interpretation. The dancers are dressed in workshop blues and they are joined on stage by the Ascendance Rep Education coordinator Charis Osborne. A plank of wood is flung down. Then it is sawn into sections and eventually it is hammered back together. There are tender duets emphasising fragile and mutually supportive relationships and there are powerful confrontations. The dancers emerge from them with balletic twists and turns. A medieval soundtrack keeps them in an obsessive trance. Barbara Schmid excels in this.
Ascendance Rep’s growing fan base will enjoy this triple bill. Its quality and the manner of its staging shows how well established this company now is.
Go to http://www.ascendance.org.uk/ for tour dates.
By Kevin Berry
Dance on the Edinburgh Fringe
During festival time, all sorts of Edinburgh landmarks do duty as Fringe venues. Church halls, the Assembly Rooms and the University’s lecture theatres now have long Fringe histories. This year, the General Assembly of the Church of Scotland presented stand up comedy and tango shows, its box office portacabin right next to a stern-faced statue of the religious reformer John Knox. I wonder what he would have made of Tango Fire?
Not many of these converted spaces make good dance venues, but the General Assembly is an exception. Its main hall has a handsome stage, decently raked seating, and rich, if sombre, decoration. It made a good setting for the Argentinian company Estampas Porteñas. Four couples dance a series of tango set pieces, with steps including extravagant lifts and catches. Yet the finest duets come from Luciano Capparelli and Rocio de los Santos, who know how to make the most of the simplest steps. As they turn, Capparelli and de los Santos give a little shuffle, a tiny shift of weight from one foot to the other. It’s a soft and very slinky movement, their bodies undulating before sweeping on. It’s good to hear live music on the Fringe, but Estampas Porteñas could do with stricter musicianship from the band. I’d have liked fewer piano sweeps, less sobbing vibrato.
There was an even better tango at the famous Spiegeltent. The late-night variety show La Clique presented acts ranging from Captain Frodo, the double-jointed Norwegian, to the Flying Willers, a terrifying adagio act. In this company, two men, under the name Los Hermanos Macana, dance a gorgeously smooth tango. They dance at arms’ length, with fascinating emphasis on the give and take of the tango. Because they’re both men, they can mirror each other exactly, before sliding into more traditional partnering. One low lift is followed by another, each man swinging the other around. And the movement quality is marvellous. From shoulder to knee, the dancing is all velvet; below that, feet kick and cut through sharp-edged steps.
Having come to La Clique for the tango, I had a splendid time with the rest of the bill. Captain Frodo’s contortions are almost unbearably extreme, but his patter is enchanting. The Caesar Twins (La Clique regulars, who went on to the Royal Variety Performance and the West End) wind themselves in on silks, striking noble attitudes while hanging upside down. As for the Willers, how can you resist an Elvis impersonator who spins on the spot, swinging his partner around his neck, the whole thing balanced on roller skates? La Clique makes a perfect Fringe show, the best fun of everything I saw.
More soberly, the venue Aurora Nova, based in a converted church, usually dominates Fringe dance. Despite plenty of established names, this year’s programme was a disappointment. In 2004, the German street dance company Renegade Theatre had a huge hit with Rumble, a hip hop Romeo and Juliet that went on to a sell out UK tour. This year’s follow-up, Streetlife, had no plot and not much energy.
The show is dominated by graffiti. As a dancer leans against a wall, scribbles are drawn around her, created on a computer and projected onto the stage. The backdrop keeps changing, but the foreground stays blank. The dancers huddle in coats, flail about unhappily, but rarely dance. Sometimes they drop in a turn or a handstand; more often, they trudge on through this show.
Derevo are Fringe favourites, regularly winning awards and rave reviews. This St Petersburg troupe is highly skilled and sometimes self-indulgent. In Ketzal, the talent gets lost in the babble. The title means “bird” in the Nagua language, which may explain all the feathers. But why were there so many codpieces, so much twitching and gibbering, so many black plastic rubbish bags? Two of the shaven-headed dancers cling together, forming a monstrous lizard; a half-circle of red cloth looks like a setting sun. A few images stand out from all the incoherence, but they’re isolated moments of interest.
Kataklò Athletic Dance Theatre (Aurora Nova) appeared at the opening ceremony of the Winter Olympics in Turin, and sport is still on their minds. Artistic director Giulia Staccioli, who has worked with the American company Momix, uses gymnastics to play with the idea of various sports. A tennis couple flirt to 1930s Italian songs, swinging their racquets and doing handstands. Cyclists flip over and around the handlebars of their fixed bicycles. This show slides cheerfully into kitsch, but the skill and strength of the performers is marvellous. I loved the footballer who gripped a goalpost with both hands, swung his feet off the ground, and stayed there, his body held straight and perfectly horizontal. This should be impossible: what happened to gravity? After twisting himself around the crossbar, this prodigy was chivvied offstage by a whistle-blowing referee.
I saw two shows in Aurora Nova’s smaller downstairs theatre, both slight but lively. En Forme, by the French Cie Didier Théron, shows four dancers writhing on and off the furniture. As they bounce in and out of the same chair, the same bed, the steps get faster and faster, building into comic rhythms. One man lounges on his side, one foot crossed over the other knee, then starts springing along, hoppity hoppity. Resonance, from Northern Ireland, presented the wry relationship drama Echo Echo. Ursual Laeubli takes up poses, illustrating animals – a purring cat, gaping shark, sneering camel. Steve Batts guesses each animal, showing some irritation. It’s obvious that this is an old routine, something that charmed him at the start of their relationship, but is now becoming tiresome.
Scottish Dance Theatre, performing at Zoo Southside, had committed dancers and an unfortunate choice of repertory. No Stronger Than A Flower, which forms part of the company’s autumn tour, is a contrary piece by Jan De Schynkel. A coffee percolator gurgles on stage (“I’d love a cup of coffee,” sighed the woman behind me) while dancers push scenery around, climb onto a mantelpiece and pose there, or blow up balloons concealed under each other’s clothes. The quirkiness is self-conscious, with a wackiness that undermines De Schynkel’s images. The dancers show a conviction and attack that deserve better material.
At the Pleasance, Los Gemelos Lombard presented Dreamers, a curious mix of video autobiography, hip hop and tap dance. Martin and Facundo Lombard, from Argentina, are identical twins. Essentially, their dream is the American one. Having grown up learning steps from film and music video, they’re eager to make a career for themselves in the United States. There’s a headlong naiveté to the storytelling, as the starry-eyed Lombards work their way up, meeting their heroes and learning new moves. Their optimism is barely dented by rejected visa applications, troubles with British and American immigration control, political and economic breakdown in Argentina. The dancing comes in bursts along the way. Martin and Facundo are slight, lean and large-eyed, and their dancing style has a loose-limbed ease. In hip hop, they concentrate on upright steps over floor work, moving with unusual weight and texture. The tap is lighter, jazz hoofing done with quick, bouncy fervour.
There was a flurry of publicity for James Devine, reminding the world that he, rather than Michael Flatley, holds the world record for speed tap, with 38 beats per second. Devine toured with Flatley, before choreographing and starring in another Irish dance spectacular, Gaelforce. His Fringe show, Tapeire, moves away from the Riverdance template to something much less glitzy, sharing a stage with fiddle player Ashley MacIsaac and percussionist Dave Boyd – who, unfortunately, is given to comic routines. The vaulted stone cellar of the Smirnoff Baby Belly isn’t a great dance venue; you can’t always see the footwork, though Devine has a camera set up, projecting his dancing onto a big screen. He’s a strong, emphatic dancer, showing a variety of Irish dance styles. He starts by striking grunge poses, head bowed and body tilted forwards as he dances. As he straightens up, his rhythm gets livelier, more varied. I loved a traditional number on a pair of raised dancing platforms – one small, one tiny. Though dancing on the spot, Devine doesn’t dance small; the movement is still large-scale, though his jumps and landings have an extra delicacy. As Devine moves between different styles, his film clips provide an affectionate history of Irish dancing, with wonderful photographs of community dances.
By Zoë Anderson
Ballet Nacional de Cuba at Sadler’s Wells, September 1–10, 2006
Following the success of the Ballet Nacional de Cuba’s visit to Sadler’s Wells last year, the company made a swift return visit to London in early September with a repertoire consisting of the full length Don Quixote and a mixed programme of ballet “lollipops” called Magia de la Danza. Part of the success of the Cubans’ previous visit, for me at least, was the revelation of a troupe of dancers with a uniformity of schooling and style – a style that harks back to the era of the former Ballets Russes companies with whom Alicia Alonso, the founder of the Nacional Ballet, was a celebrated ballerina. The company also employs a variety of very talented principals and soloists, who could justifiably grace the stages of any number of ballet theatres across the globe. One cannot help but appreciate the high standards of dancing that Alicia Alonso has been able to develop – she is the Cuban equivalent of Britain’s Ninette de Valois and Marie Rambert. What cannot be disguised, however, is the utter poverty of the company’s production values: threadbare backcloths and rudimentary scenery; costumes and wigs that look as if they had been made 50 years ago for a school production – they do little to enhance the quality of the dancing or the veracity of the acting. Regular Dancing Times readers will be aware of the poor state of the rehearsal studios for the company and school in Havana, and there was an extraordinary response to our request for donations of new dance shoes and practice clothes for the company last summer. One can only hope that with more regular visits to Western Europe, the Nacional Ballet’s bank balance will become healthier.
The opening programme Magia de la Danza, which I saw on September 1, was, as last year, an indigestible series of divertissements from a phalanx of 19th century ballets, all in versions by Alonso “after” the original choreography. My companion for the evening remarked that it was like a meal consisting only of desserts. However, the performance gave the company an opportunity to show off a number of its dancers, some of whom had not been on view on the previous visit. I admired Hayna Gutiérrez’s soft and rounded “Romantic” style in the long extract from Giselle Act II - an odd programme opener. Anette Delgado and Rómel Frómenta were supremely confident in the Act III pas de deux from The Sleeping Beauty, but it was a shame they were dancing Alonso’s version of the choreography, which has little to do with Petipa. (The couple had also danced an exquisite Nutcracker pas de deux in the 2005 performances.) Taras Domitro made a big impression as Franz in his solo from Coppélia – bold and elegant dancing performed with neat, clear attention to detail and a winning personality. Making a big impression for all the wrong reasons was Viengsay Valdés, dancing with Joel Carreño in the pas de deux from Don Quixote, who overindulged in unmusical extended balances that came dangerously close to turning the duet into an adagio act from the Music Hall of yesteryear. The audience roared their approval. I, however, found her self satisfied and vulgar.
Alonso’s full-length version of Don Quixote opened at the Wells on September 5, led by Valdés and Carreño. Much of the choreography is familiar from the versions performed by the Bolshoi and Kirov Ballet, although Alonso and her collaborators, Marta García and María Elena Llorente, have updated the action to the French invasion of Spain in the early 19th century, shorn some of the more “exotic” gypsy dances, and cut the “Tavern” scene completely. (Basilio now “fakes” his death at the beginning of the attempted enforced wedding of Kitri to Camacho, which consequently becomes her wedding to Basilio.) Don Quixote is a jolly showcase, which the company performs with verve and vivaciousness, but too much exposure to Minkus’s tinkly tunes and the trite nature of some of the choreography can be wearing. I didn’t enjoy the performance as much as I had hoped, and I am coming to the conclusion that only the Bolshoi, who understand Don Quixote innately, should be allowed to perform the ballet.
Joel Carreño danced Basilio with assurance and boyish charm. He partnered Viengsay Valdés marvellously, but was rather lightweight in personality. Valdés danced Kitri fast and flashily, but I did not find her a heroine one to warm to. The company obviously believes the couple to be a “star turn”, giving them prime exposure this year as last, but I’m not so sure. The press was offered tickets for the first night only, but there are other, equally talented dancers in the Nacional Ballet de Cuba, and I might have enjoyed Don Quixote much more if it had been possible to see a different cast. Nevertheless, it was good to see the company again, and I hope they will be back soon – with some different examples of their repertoire.
By Jonathan Gray
As we become more and more assigned to modern day living – exchanging information via the net at a rate of knots; downloadable music, video footage and films on to iPods; pause and rewind TV and radio; mobile phones parading as laptops and broadcasting stations etc, we may be forgiven for wondering where live entertainment fits in to this hi-tech maelstrom.
Hurdling the predicament that dance will probably, one day soon, have to resign itself to the fact that we are a nation permanently on fast-forward, simply scrapping the bits we don’t like at startling speed, the English National Ballet have come up with an answer to where the future of ballet is heading.
Last month (September 20) it was announced that ENB have joined forces with Artsworld channel to launch Sky TV’s High Definition (HD) television.
Teaming up with other Iconic Brits – fashion darling, Giles Deacon, and über cool post-punk band, Bloc Party – they have produced a sizzlingly sexy, cool and cutting-edge modern ballet for the screen, “Ballet Rocks”. It is both seductive and elegant, flirty and sharp.
Having taken a brave turn in 2005, when they hired outspoken choreographer Wayne Eagling as artistic director – a man who had once damned the company for being “boring” – Eagling is now clearly proving that he can upturn the dusty image of ENB.
Directed by Sky’s Elliott Naftalin, known for his work on the Stella Artois adverts, “Ballet Rocks” aims to address not only the new notion of pop-video ballet but also the startling clarity of High Definition TV (HDTV).
We’ve all sat through hours of telly-ballet at Christmas watching The Nutcracker through the eyes of a leaden camera, the stage looking flat, the dancers looking small and far away, their expressions out of eyesight and their costumes dull. With HDTV the aim is to show every crease of fabric, every bead of sweat, every sinew, every glance as the dancers move.
Staying true to the company’s aims not to only broaden perceptions of ballet but also nurture young talent, the ballet, which includes dancers Fernanda Oliveira, Begona Cao, Joanne Clarke, Fabian Reimair, James Forbat and Max Westwell, is choreographed by 22 year-old choreographic hot-cake Jenna Lee.
The result is a dazzling fusion of contemporary and classical ballet, with a sexy, edgy, vampy veneer. Bathed in red light and shadowed by geometric minimalist white sculptures they flex, spiral and wiggle their hips to Bloc Party’s dance floor filler, “Banquet”.
To live up to this new, in-vogue image, the dancers wear revealing, slinky red leotards, fishnet tights, bright red pointe shoes and severe black eye make up as they strut and slide, bathed in hot red lights.
For a company that was not long ago plagued by an image of boring box-office blockbusters, whilst being stuck in the artistic doldrums, this is a savvy move. Who knows where this will take ENB – will they be the first classical ballet company to accompany a live punk gig? Will they be the first in line for a ballet download revolution allowing us to enjoy them on our iPods as we’re on the move?
Wherever this goes, it’s exciting just to know that ballerinas can get down and rock, and do it this well.
By Katie Phillips
Paris Opéra Ballet
John Neumeier is no stranger to the Paris Opéra Ballet, the company having already performed his versions of The Nutcracker, A Midsummer Night’s Dream and Sylvia, besides the Magnificat he made for them. Now it has acquired his La Dame aux camélias, which he had originally made in 1978 for Marcia Haydée and the Stuttgart Ballet; it is currently in the repertory of the Hamburg Ballet, which he has directed for over 30 years.
There have been several other ballets on the subject – including Frederick Ashton’s 1963 one-act Marguerite and Armand, now probably the best known – but Neumeier’s is, I imagine, the most complex.
It was directly inspired by Alexandre Dumas’ famous novel, which reflects the author’s own experience in his unhappy love affair with the beautiful courtesan Marie Duplessis, who died of tuberculosis at 23, after an adventurous life. A quotation from Dumas in the copious programme notes tells us that Marguerite Gautier (i.e. Marie) attended all the theatre first nights invariably wearing or carrying camelias, hence her nickname “la Dame aux camélias”. Her striking looks attracted a profusion of rich lovers (Franz Liszt was among her admirers, even giving her piano lessons), initially satisfying her hunger for wealth and luxury, but it was her affair with young Armand Duval that most aroused her passion.
Like the novel, the ballet opens after her death, in her apartments, with the scene – performed in silence – of the auction of her remaining belongings, items of furniture being removed or shunted around as customers enter. The curtain is already up as the audience arrives; at both sides of the stage the space is extended towards the auditorium, with, on the left, an elderly man sitting stoically still. He turns out to be M. Duval (guest Michaël Denard), Armand’s father. His son arrives distraught, and they commiserate.
After this Prologue, Act I – accompanied, like the whole ballet, by music by Chopin, in this instance the Piano Concerto No. 2 – goes back to the beginning of the story.
A central feature of Neumeier’s treatment is his coupling of Marguerite’s 19th century story with that of Manon Lescaut’s 18th century one, some parallels easily springing to mind. A ballet on the latter subject is seen being performed at the Théâtre des Variétés in Paris with Marguerite and Armand (Aurélie Dupont and Manuel Legris on June 20 first night) in the audience. Manon and Des Grieux (Isabelle Ciaravola and José Martinez) reappear later. An added justification for the doubling is that, apparently, an annotated copy of the Abbé Prévost’s moral tale was found among Marie’s effects.
The lovers share a devouring passion, as is seen in a series of passionate pas de deux; also, for some minutes they lie entwined on the jutting out right-hand section, where at other moments Armand is seen reading with seeming attention (Manon Lescaut, perhaps?). Both roles are extremely demanding, technically and interpretatively. Dupont danced with technical mastery and great intensity, while Legris gave an altogether magnificent performance, throwing himself to the ground several times, rolling over with Marguerite and executing perilous leaps and turns while expressing a variety of violent emotions. The passion fades after Marguerite’s expulsion from the country house in Act II (an event impossible to explain without words: La Traviata triumphs there) and later they both form other liaisons.
Act III is somewhat over-complicated, with Marguerite’s nightmare visions of Manon, the couple meeting again in the Champs-Elysées, and new characters introduced, with big roles for the courtesan Olympia and her companion (Myriam Ould-Braham and Karl Paquette, both excellent). There is a large cast for the two ball scenes, but at the end Marguerite dies alone.
Jürgen Rose’s scenery and costumes are elegant in design and colour, while the choice of the music, sometimes for piano solo, did not always strike me as felicitous. The company gave of its considerable best; understandably, Neumeier looked very happy as he acknowledged the enthusiastic applause.
The ballet is due to open the new season, again at the Palais Garnier. Running concurrently with it at Opéra Bastille in June was a triple bill of works by Maurice Béjart.
By Freda Pitt
Bonachela Dance Company
The linking title of Voices provides the theme for Bonachela’s first programme, a double bill, for his newly-formed company. He’s always liked choreographing to vocal music, whether to pop songs or, most recently in Curious Conscience for Rambert, poems set to music by Benjamin Britten. Mark Baldwin had challenged him to extend his range with the Britten score; now Bonachela is pushing himself further, taking on Luciano Berio’s Naturale for the opening piece, Ahotsak, and commissioning a score from Matthew Herbert for Set Boundaries.
In place of the choppy, hyper-fast moves of his earlier work, Bonachela is developing a more emotive vocabulary. In Ahotsak (which means voices in Basque), his six dancers interconnect and break apart in a series of needy relationships. The context seems urban. No music at first, just the whoosh of traffic as Theo Clinkard gestures, distraught, against a bleak backdrop. Then, as two musicians seated at the side of the stage join in, the dancers pair up in fretful partnering. Berio’s music is for viola and tam-tam (played at the South Bank by Paul Silverthorne and David Hockings), with the recorded voice of a Sicilian popular singer, Celano. Since the words are unintelligible, the dancers’ angst could be about anything and everything: failure to communicate, to find consolation, love, understanding.
Yet when the music veers into folk dance rhythms, the couples put their differences aside and cohere into a unison group. Their brief community splinters as they swap partners, argue in trios, assert themselves in solos (Antonia Grove riveting in her sensual absorption). There’s no logic to what they do, except as a response to the music’s moods; the ending, bathed in a red glow, remains ambivalent. But their human predicaments are far more involving than Bonachela’s earlier experiments with disaffected dancing in a thumping club scene.
He aims for political significance in Set Boundaries, which is dominated by Lenka Clayton’s video installation. North Korean frontier guards patrol a border post, each half of the screen mirroring the other, though disconcertingly time-lapsed. The soundtrack is associated with killing, its percussive sounds taken from spent shells used in Israel and Iraq. Alan Seeger’s 1916 war poem, I Have a Rendezvous With Death, has been arranged by Pete Wraight as a Britten-like lament; in between its verses, the words of a Kurdish asylum seeker are recited on tape by an impassive English voice. Altogether too much information, especially since the sinister video upstages the dancers, imprisoned below in squares of light.
Once again, they cleave together in pairs, though this time two are same-sex couples. The men handle each other violently; the women are more compassionate, though the angry athleticism of the partnering contradicts the loneliness of the sung and spoken words. Solos by Clinkard and Amy Hollingsworth retrieve an essential sense of isolation, both dancers bringing their personal skills to overstrained choreography. Bonachela is relying on fine interpreters and stylish presentation to compensate for a contemporary dance vocabulary that isn’t yet distinctive or expressive enough. He has still to define exactly what he wants to say and why he needs his own company to say it.
By Jann Parry
Henri Oguike Dance Company
The conjunction of Henri Oguike Dance Company and Britten Sinfonia, performing at the Queen Elizabeth Hall on May 7 to a large and rapturous audience, was evidence of Oguike’s keen commitment to setting modern dance to live music. In each of the works shown, whether the scores were Shostakovich, Tippett or a commission by Steve Martland, Oguike’s close reaction to musical dynamics was abundantly demonstrated.
Oguike, whose splendidly sound training and early performance experience came from London Contemporary Dance School and Richard Alston Dance Company (1994-97), is a choreographer with a recognisably strong personal identity. He set up his own group in 1999, and his wide-ranging career since then, at home and abroad, has been marked by unusual collaborations with musicians and influential master-class teaching.
Front Line, described as his “signature piece” and created in Birmingham in 2002, is set to Shostakovich’s String Quartet No 9 in E flat, and contains all the elements that establish his approach to dance. Forceful and aggressive, it offers staccato non-stop ensemble patterns to which each of the cast contributes an individual thread. His dancers are talented, tireless and committed, working smoothly as a team. Oguike is particularly inventive over unexpected steps and gestures, orchestrated hand flapping, quick, violent confrontations and brief hints of emotional involvements.
Tippett’s Concerto for Double String Orchestra, a tribute to the composer’s centenary first danced in St Edmundsbury Cathedral in Bury St Edmunds in 2005, was a work of great ingenuity. A full set of onstage instrumentalists was the background for whiteclad dancers who performed cheerfully brisk and almost skittish sequences that relied rather too much on a variously designed use of arm or hand-linked lines. There was, at moments, a sense of stylistic relationship with works by Pina Bausch and Ohad Naharin. The central movement, however, was devoted to a compelling and reflective male solo that offered more lyrical depth than was apparent elsewhere in the evening. Tiger Dancing, also staged in Bury St Edmunds in 2005, promised an attractive association of dance with Blake’s poem The Tyger, but it was hard to detect any choreographic or musical connection between the two works. The type of movement seemed more simian than feline; but, again, the work was rewarding in its great choreographic vigour and ingenuity.
By Kathrine Sorley Walker
Tango Por Dos
Miguel Angel Zotto brought his Tango Por Dos, from Argentina, back to the Peacock Theatre May 24-June 11. The present popularity of social dance styles, and fond memories of these superb dancers, ensured full houses and much enthusiasm but I found the evening less enthralling than in the past. The new show, La Historia, aims to trace the history of the company and pay tribute to some influential choreographers and composers who have helped shape the development of Tango Por dos. The first half, running just over an hour, has the six superb musicians on a platform across the back of the dancing area while, below and in front of them, the 16 dancers present a medley of virtuoso tangos. The basic tango steps, danced by men with men or men with women, are embroidered with dazzling fast footwork while the sultry lighting suggests something of the milieux in which the dance had its origins. Extracts from previous shows recapture the beauty and excitement that we associate with Zotto and his gifted team. Passion and tension smoulder, but are contained within the dance itself. The second half of the show is altogether different. The musicians are now at stage level, and the raised platform is used in numbers, which suggest various associated locations: the underworld of the earliest styles, the immigrant arrivals, the brothels, the mannequins in a department store. There are film projections, speech and vibrant song (from guest artist Maria José Mentana and that best of compères Claudio Garces) but the whole section is too busy and too long. So much has been crammed in that the basic story line is lost and the dancing, brilliant as ever, obscured by the trimmings. Nimble and boldly seductive as the ladies are, it is the men who have the most nifty footwork and whose personalities dominate the show. All are supremely talented, expertly trained, but, when he is dancing and not clowning (fine clown though he is) it is the most senior of them, Miguel Angel Zotto himself, who most powerfully epitomises tango. Tango, I suspect, like other dance forms, notably those of India and Spain, is seen at its best when it is true to itself. Polonius had a point.
By Mary Clarke
Probe in Have We Met Somewhere
Posited as “Slick, unpredictable and sexy”, Probe uses three contrasting couples to explore different facets of human relationships. Dancers Antonia Grove and Theo Clinkard stretch the limits of energy and stamina to complete three pieces, spanning an hour long performance.
Rafael Bonachela’s Soledad takes us into the domestic space of a struggling couple. The dancers assume their costumes, and indeed the identities of their characters, before the audience’s eyes against a filmed backdrop of a prowling Matador, the tense nature of the film hinting at the passion and crises to come. The loveliest moment of the piece, for me, is the very first one: Grove gently, almost helplessly leans on Clinkard, then he tenderly brushes his neck against hers, suggesting an interdependence and intimacy which will surely become disrupted. The convincingly affectionate embraces and beautiful lighting (by Lee Curran) heighten the drama inherent in the interweaving, tension filled choreography, while the dancers move as one, lifting and manipulating, then fall apart, only to come back together again with an intense fervour.
The piece offers a demonstration of tension and inequality; while one dancer writhes and despairs, the other looks on, indifferent. Some of their partnering work looks physically gruelling if not somehow violent, and Bonachela’s angular, tumultuous choreography is extremely moving and demanding. In terms of intensity, the dancers are mismatched. Grove, with her mane of red hair, is striking, strong and passionate, while Clinkard looks slightly weak in comparison. His artistry, musicality and general believability is lagging in comparison to his partner’s, a drawback that was noticeable throughout the evening.
Cut Ups, by Lea Anderson was the puzzling middle piece. Donning crisp, shiny suits, the dancers become androgynous, introducing the piece through a series of silhouettes, culminating in a sequence of interactive shadow puppets of the dancers’ hands. In a section entitled “Pin up parade”, the dancers advance on a catwalk of light, rhythmically posing and pouting while their shadows dance on behind them. With wiggling hips and angular stances, this almost kitsch routine develops into a freer, interactive section, before becoming a surreal, exaggerated mix of overstated facial expressions and puppet-like manipulation. Nearly psychedelic in its oddness, the overriding theme of the evening, dysfunctional relationships, is hard to relate to the piece. Are the dancers intended to be super-cool, standoffish, celebrity type characters, or personifications of abstract notions? I came away undecided.
The final piece, Fever To Tell, choreographed by Mark Bruce and set to the adrenalin-filled music of rock group The Yeah Yeah Yeahs, shows a couple in the throes of passion, whirling and tumbling together, reflecting the urgency and sexiness of the music. Impressively energetic after 40 minutes of dancing, the dancers threw themselves with gusto into a piece which presents a destructive, unstable love. Bruce adds touches such as a duet while holding a cigarette and a lamenting, moving song from Grove; indeed her objection at being “dragged all over the place” is given a poignant physicality in light of the choreography.
Probe is exciting, thought provoking and intensely dynamic, with a propensity to pinpoint emotions with startling accuracy and room for artistic and choreographic development.
By Louise Bennett
New York City Ballet in “Diamonds”
The New York City Ballet did some diamond mining at the New York State Theater (April 25-June 25), when performances featured the sixth Diamond Project, a sporadically offered series of premieres established in 1992 and named after the philanthropist Irene Diamond. Dancegoers, however, tend to regard the balletic “diamonds” as potential theatrical treasures, and they do create excitement. This season, seven choreographers participated and, as I post this notice, not all have staged their works. But let’s take the choreographers thus far one by one.
Eliot Feld (April 29). Asked for a premiere, Feld gave us a whole evening of ballets: two premieres and some older pieces, all so different in tone that it was easy to understand why he keeps both stimulating and exasperating audiences who never know what to expect from him. The premieres were brief solos: Étoile Polaire (Philip Glass), in which the tall young Kaitlyn Gilliland appeared to trace fine-lined designs in space with her long arms and legs, and the prankish Ugha Bugha (John Cage), in which Wu-Kang Chen, a guest from Feld’s own company, bounced about with rattling cans attached to his body. Older works included Intermezzo No. 1, a Romantic “piano-ballet” to Brahms, the enigmatic and melancholy Unanswered Question (Ives), and two brash studies in patterning: Backchat (Paul Lansky), in which men tried to climb a wall, and A Stair Dance (Steve Reich) – yes, that title does contains a pun – in which dancers scampered on a staircase.
Mauro Bigonzetti (May 4) rejuvenated a familiar genre. In Vento was one of those ballets about a contemplative young man whose thoughts dance around him. Here, the sensitive youth was Benjamin Millepied and his thoughts were led by Maria Kowroski and Jason Fowler. Although just what ailed the hero was never quite clear, the choreographic patterns of thought stirred curiosity, and their mysteries were enhanced by Bruno Moretti’s commissioned score, rich in ominous tremolos and insidious melodies.
Peter Martins and Christopher Wheeldon showed premieres on the same night (May 10).
Martins set The Red Violin to John Corigliano’s Concerto for Violin and Orchestra (“The Red Violin”). That subtitle refers to the fact that the score includes music Corigliano composed for the film The Red Violin, an account of a violin’s adventures through history. But Martins’ totally plotless ballet has nothing to do with a violin of any colour. Presumably, he simply liked the title. Yet as a title for this particular work, it’s pointless, and the choreography for a cast of eight is negligible, being little more than a doggedly literal visualisation of the score. Typically, Martins has fast music prompt fast steps and slow music prompt slow ones. And the steps have little significance of their own. This is taking the company’s fabled respect for music to ridiculous extremes.
Wheeldon’s Evenfall, to Bartok’s Piano Concerto No. 3, is considerably better. The ballet abounds in crystalline formations for two groups of six women who are joined by six men and two soloists: Miranda Weese and Damian Woetzel. The patterns are often exquisite. Movements also include wing-like arm flutterings recalling both Swan Lake and The Dying Swan, making Weese and Woetzel ghosts of Odette and Siegfried as the choreography separates and reunites them until Woetzel’s Siegfried vanishes forever from Odette. What significance Wheeldon intends this avian fantasy to have remains ambiguous. Yet his romantic choreography is always attractive.
Jean-Pierre Bonnefoux (May 25), Two Birds with the Wings of One had its own lovers’ partings. Sofiane Sylve and Andrew Veyette portrayed lovers who were eventually separated for no discernible reason during the course of much vague choreography. New York City Ballet choreographers who may have some sort of story in mind sometimes appear oddly reluctant to tell it, as if they feared storytelling might be suspect in this choreographic citadel of abstraction. But Balanchine, that master abstractionist, could also tell fine stories when he wished. Bonnefoux chose music by Bright Sheng, the company’s recently appointed composer-in-residence: a song cycle and an orchestral piece; we have yet to hear a commissioned score by him. What we did hear abounded in contrasts, yet could not enhance the pallid choreography.
The company, of course, has also been showing its regular repertoire: 42 ballets this season, performed with varying degrees of excellence. But let me single out one remarkable performance, that of Balanchine’s Liebeslieder Walzer on May 20, danced with a respect for atmosphere and dramatic nuance by a cast that included some of the company’s most experienced and sensitive artists: Darci Kistler, Kyra Nichols, Miranda Weese, Wendy Whelan, Tyler Angle, Charles Askegard, Nikolaj Hübbe, and Nilas Martins. These dancers knew what they were doing, and they made it look beautiful.
By Jack Anderson
Bad Girls – The Musical
Rough, tough, and raunchy but blessed with a heart of gold Bad Girls – The Musical will have audiences roaring approval and cheering the cast. Inspired by the cult TV show “Bad Girls” this show has the same writers, Maureen Chadwick and Ann McManus. The pair is also responsible for that other supposedly lowbrow cult TV show “Footballers’ Wives”. Is there another musical in the offing? That would not be a surprise.
The story is simple. Enter Helen Stewart, played by Laura Rogers. She is the new, liberal Wing Governor. Corrupt old guard prisoner officers scheme to get rid of her, but the prisoners, bless ‘em, come to Stewart’s aid.
Music and lyrics are from Kath Gotts, as is the TV show’s theme. Each song has a clear identity and purpose and each has a lasting quality. Lynne Page has given the songs witty and inventive choreographic treatment and there are some splendid chorus lines. The mix is varied: tender ballads, a gospel, show duets and huge production numbers. One of the latter, “That’s The Way It Is”, has many of the hallmarks of a sequence from a Busby Berkeley film. The girls appear in big black trousers and black blouses with white gloves and white bellboy hats. They process and wheel and they step up and down a huge staircase. Everyone cheers this. It is great fun.
Prisoner officers Hal Fowler and Sylvia “Bodybag” Hollamby, played by Jim Fenner and Rachel Izen, shape up to an enjoyable tap dancing, cane-twirling duet with their song Jailcraft.
The inmates get to bemoan their lack of sex in the number “All Banged Up”. The lyrics are a shock, but they are wickedly, astonishingly funny. The choreography leaves absolutely nothing to the imagination!
Two girls, each with the name Julie, go round together. Played by Julie Jupp and Hannah Waddingham they do interesting things with their mops and dusters, in the number “A Life Of Grime”, and they have neat movements whenever they are cleaning
Bad Girls is a well-shaped production with many thoughtful vignettes to admire. Some prisoner’s sneak into a new arrival’s cell intent on bullying, three are hooded and they writhe and slide, across and down and under the bed. Creepy and threatening.
Bad Girls – The Musical is rude and raw but the language is never objectionable. It is wildly funny and enormously entertaining, even for those who have not seen the TV show. I have to include myself in that group.
I cannot see this show being consigned to show business history on July 1, when the West Yorkshire Playhouse run officially comes to an end. London audiences will surely get their chance to see and enjoy.
By Kevin Berry
Diversions Dance Company
A line from Byron provides the title for Chase the Glowing Hours with Flying Feet, with which Diversions kicks off its spring programme (The Place, May 12). In Childe Harold’s Pilgrimage, it refers to party people revelling on regardless and ignoring the doomful knell of approaching attack. This seems unnecessarily pessimistic – it would take a lot to remove the bounce from Diversions’ spirited dancers.
Diversions is the leading Welsh dance company, and artistic director Ann Sholem has sought to match her international performers with far-flung choreographers. Chase the Glowing Hours, by Hélène Blackburn from Québec, playfully draws on the artists’ personalities and energy. The piece wittily wears its procedures on the surface – the dancers cue music and develop a vivid sign language to accompany their speech. Intricate black and white costumes by Denis Lavole are slashed and wrapped. Women wear sleeves like long evening gloves, and men squeeze into bellhop trousers, with ruffs to complete the commedia feel.
Between tumbling bursts of Bach, you hear the dancers’ noisy breath – the piece insists on its human presence. The company exudes puppyish energy and endearing animal spirits, like a collection of kid brothers and sisters. Blackburn’s movement intersperses neat footwork with tigerish leaps, and her piece picks up on the company’s polyglot enthusiasm. There’s an endearing babble in which they share their nicknames and origins, while snippets about the dancers’ attitudes to their craft sound like sugar-dusted versions of Pina Bausch confessionals. They even perform a saucy version of the alphabet, the little scamps.
The dancers insist rather too much on the masochism of performing dance. Hey, they should try watching the stuff – for example, the companion piece Struck by Lightning. If Blackburn played to the company’s strengths, Spanish choreographer Juan Carlos García exposes their callowness. It is initially set to Monteverdi’s Combat of Tancredi and Clorinda (boy loves girl; girl disguises herself as warrior; boy kills girl on battlefield). This rachets up melodramatic effects – wind machine, thundersheets, a pendulous weight swinging over the stage. García’s own clamorous sound design re-mixes Monteverdi, and later Puccini’s “Nessun dorma” can be heard piping valiantly through grungy electronics.
Larger-than-life silhouettes beside the stage reveal yellowed fragments of knotted figures from Michelangelo’s sketches for an uncompleted fresco of the Battle of Cascina. The dancers have bags of energy, but lack definition. They’re also far too cute for García’s hammy idea of erotic combat, where each man kills the thing he loves, but only after nuzzling its ears. He sets the dancers writhing valiantly at each other, glaring or giving their best sultry come-on. They’re terribly willing, but only Polish dancer Karol Cysewski looks like a properly dangerous adult. Diversions needs international collaborators who can share and develop the company’s endearing animation.
By David Jays
Eiko and Koma’s Cambodian Stories
W.H. Auden long ago declared that poetry makes nothing happen. He is probably right. Poetry – or, for that matter, any other art form – has surely never stopped a war or cured a plague. Yet, as we all know, the arts can be more than entertainments. They can call attention and bear witness to events. They can chastise and console.
Eiko and Koma did all these things in their poignant and, for them, structurally unusual new Cambodian Stories: An Offering of Painting and Dance (Asia Society, May 19-21), a collaboration with the Reyum Institute of Arts and Culture in Phnom Penh, Cambodia.
The production blended mythic patterns with human history and had a cast of 11: Eiko and Koma themselves and nine students – eight young men and a young woman between the ages of 16 and 22 – from the Reyum Painting Collective.
The project came about when Daravuth Ly, who founded Reyum in 1998 with the late Ingrid Muan, saw a New York performance by Eiko and Koma and, as an experiment, invited them to conduct a workshop in Phnom Penh in 2004. The Japanese-born choreographers were so excited by the students that they returned the next year, and the result was Cambodian Stories, to a taped collage prepared by Sam-Ang Sam.
The sexual imbalance of the cast was not intentional. Students were free to attend the movement workshops as they wished, and more young men than young women finally remained. Although the performers were art, not dance, students – and they collectively created paintings during the action – they all moved well, especially two soloists: Chakreya So, a charming young woman, and Setpheap (“Peace”) Sorn, a remarkably lithe young man. But everyone proved both nimble and graceful. Many dancers with far more extensive training might well have envied them.
Large portraits depicting serene goddess-like women lined a sand-covered stage on which a canvas was set. A wooden construction was placed atop it and young men dangled down from this frame, painting a woman’s portrait on the canvas beneath them. The movements they made while painting could be viewed as little dances in themselves. Chakreya So and Setpheap Sorn made ceremonious traversals of the stage, often raising their arms in a much-repeated gestural motif suggesting hope or supplication. Everything looked lovely.
But loveliness was not to last. Disaster intervened. The dancers faltered and staggered, as if growing weak and famished. Although no specific historical references were made, the choreography almost inevitably brought to mind the fact that during the genocidal Pol Pot dictatorship, millions of Cambodians were starved, tortured and killed.
The elegant portraits fell to the ground. Chakreya So stretched out inert, as if she had died. But fresh murals were painted, dominated by divine-looking women who might also have been idealised images of Chakreya So.
All the dancers, though limping now, supported one another and struggled to continue living, thereby making Cambodian Stories a celebration of art’s power to remember and renew.
By Jack Anderson
Compañía Metros in Carmen
Prosper Mérimée’s legendary novel Carmen, aided and abetted by Georges Bizet’s famous opera, has spawned innumerable international dance productions, including the fondly remembered creation by Roland Petit, and the not so fondly remembered version by Mats Ek. The latest incarnation of the story, which arrived at Sadler’s Wells on June 20, following “widespread critical acclaim overseas”, is by the choreographer and director Ramón Oller for the Compañía Metros of Barcelona. The production promised to be the first ever to combine “contemporary dance mixed with flamenco”. That may be so, but I have never before seen a production of Carmen that offers the audience such a dearth of choreographic ideas and dramatic tedium. (Even the Ek production managed to get some kind of audience reaction when performed in London a few years ago.)
Oller sets his production on a rooftop terrace in modern-day Spain, peopled by what looks like an enclosed community of ten dancers (could they possibly be prisoners?). The central Carmen figure, shadowed by a mature female flamenco dancer (symbolising the soul of Carmen?), attracts the attention of the men and the jealousy of the women. Why she should do so, I could not fathom; she appeared the most demure, unprovocative Carmen I have ever seen.
The production loosely tells the familiar story of José’s infatuation with Carmen, and his murder of her after she has left him for the Torero – the only novelty being that he appears to murder Carmen by drowning her in the water of a gushing storage tank. Whilst Oller’s dances offer little more than ensembles and duets of repetitious stamping of feet, swirling turns, heavy-handed lifts, and half-hearted flamenco, he singularly fails to illuminate the motivation of the protagonist. We need to understand the heroine’s irresistible attraction. This Carmen seems no different from the other women of her community – there is no allure, no energy, no independence of spirit, and no cunning. Her motivation is difficult to discern, making it impossible to feel any involvement with her story, or, more crucially, to feel any sympathy for her murder at the climax of the work.
It was problematic, in such circumstances, to assess the quality of the company’s dancers. Suffice to say, what they were given to do they did very well. Sandrine Rouet, that evening’s Carmen, seemed listless and petulant. She was unable to make her character more than mildly seductive, which, to be fair, was probably not her fault. The most impressive personality on stage was the flamenco dancer Carmen García, whose forceful, pliant torso and back gave dignity, weight and grace to her dancing.
By Jonathan Gray
Les Ballets de Monte-Carlo
Ballet and Monte-Carlo have been associated for a long time. In 1879, four years after the opening of his more illustrious Paris Opera House, Charles Garnier completed the construction of the Salle Garnier adjoining the Casino in Monte-Carlo. The first Ballets de Monte-Carlo would have been performing in the operas especially created for the theatre, by composers such as Berlioz, Massenet and Saint-Saens. But it was when Serge Diaghilev, cut off from the Russian Imperial Theatres, decided to base his Ballets Russes in Monte-Carlo, in the hope of attracting royal patronage, that it became an important centre for dance. Each year the company would gather in the exclusive Riviera principality to rehearse for the new season, Diaghilev being joined by an ever increasing number of collaborators, his “committee of friends”, many of them Europe’s leading composers, artists, designers and writers.
In 1932, three years after Diaghilev’s death and the disbandment of his company, a new Ballets Russes was formed in Monte-Carlo directed by René Blum and Colonel de Basil. Many of Diaghilev’s dancers were retained in the new company, with Balanchine and later Leonide Massine as principal choreographer. Undergoing multiple changes of name and direction, but always retaining the magical “Monte-Carlo” in the title, the company continued its existence until 1962 – as is recorded in the film Ballets Russes.
In 1985, Princess Caroline of Monaco, now Princess of Hanover, fulfilled her mother’s wishes and brought about the creation of a new Ballets de Monte-Carlo, funded by the Princess Grace Foundation and the local government. It is from this date that the 20 years are counted. The French choreographer, Pierre Lacotte, and his ballerina wife, Ghislaine Thesmar, were appointed directors, and works from the Ballets Russes repertoire by Fokine and Massine were revived as well as 19th century classics and a number of new works by contemporary choreographers. In 1989 Jean Yves Esquerre took over as director, the repertoire reflecting his background as a dancer with Béjart, Neumeier and Kylián. The company’s achievements and reputation grew with international tours but its style and repertoire were almost identical to those of half a dozen other ballet companies scattered around Europe at the time.
It was only with the arrival of Jean-Christophe Maillot in 1993 that the company found a true identity. A prolific choreographer, Maillot also brought to Monte-Carlo a vision and the exceptional energy needed to move the company forward. Maillot trained with Rosella Hightower at the Centre International de Danse in Cannes, won a prize at Lausanne, and was engaged by John Neumeier for the Hamburg Ballet in Germany. An injury brought about an early end to his dancing career and returning to his home-town, Tours, he was engaged as ballet director for the local Opera Ballet where he soon attracted attention and Tours became the first National Choreographic Centre in France. With his appointment as director of the Ballets de Monte-Carlo, Maillot’s most pressing problem was to find a new home for the company and The Atelier was created in 1997, a conversion from a huge factory in Beausoleil on the outskirts of Monaco. Here the larger of the two studios can be transformed in a studio theatre or divided to create an extra rehearsal space; costumes and scenery are made and stored on the premises, and technical and administrative staff have large and airy offices. The dancers enjoy a huge glass-roofed foyer area with a cafeteria and have the use of a sauna, jacuzzi, spa and gym on the top floor. In return for what appear to be perfect working conditions Jean-Christophe Maillot demands total commitment from his dancers, a sense of responsibility for their own work and for the company’s success: “to be a dancer is a question of all or nothing… I expect a sense of creativity from them. I want them to contribute, suggest, and not just to wait.” The 45-strong company is made up of 15 different nationalities and is an interesting mix of physiques, age and race. The only British dancer is Leanne Codrington who has joined this season and comes via The Royal Ballet School, English National Ballet and Dance Theatre of Harlem.
Against all the current trends in France, Maillot has stood up for the need to preserve classical ballet and to create new works using all the diversity and technical challenges offered by both classical and contemporary dance. His Romeo and Juliet, Cinderella and Beauty show his company at its strongest and these ballets have been performed throughout the world on their many tours. The company gives about 20 performances a year in their home-town, performing since 2000 in the super-modern Grimaldi Forum, a 1700-seater waterfront auditorium which undoubtedly suits the present company better than the lush and ornate surroundings of the Opera House. They spend approximately six months of the year on tour, as virtual roving ambassadors for Monaco, and during the current season will visit Japan, Korea, Russia (St Petersburg), Spain, Switzerland, Italy, Austria and France. For this 20th anniversary season, the company is giving four short seasons in Monte-Carlo, and opened in December with Maillot’s new full-length production, The Dream, and a Triple Bill of Balanchine’s Four Temperaments, Kylián’s Sinfonietta and Béjart’s Bolero. With this mixed programme, Maillot wished to pay homage to those choreographers who have been of greatest importance to him and in so doing presented his company with three landmark works of extremely differing styles. All three were respectfully performed with some outstanding contributions from the soloists. However, the main interest of the season was definitely The Dream. As with all Maillot’s works, stage design plays a major part and here Ernest Pignon-Ernest has created a stunningly effective set of gleaming white pillars and a ceiling of white, silky clouds. Maillot has used the Mendelssohn score as well as commissioning new music from two composers in contrasting styles; Daniel Teruggi creating an atmospheric background of otherworldly electronics and Betrand Maillot a suitably earthy accompaniment for the “rude mechanicals” with bells and percussion. The company’s greatest strength is probably the way a group of very individual artists blend to form a truly homogenous ensemble and they performed this very contemporary but highly enjoyable Dream impressively. Jean-Christophe Maillot has given his company the best possible birthday present with this highly successful new production.
The company returned to Monte-Carlo in April as part of the Monaco Spring Arts Festival to present new works by Maillot and Sidi Larbi Cherkaoui. His connection with the company started in 2002 when he was awarded a “Nijinski” prize for choreography, by Maillot, at the Monaco Dance Forum. Best known in the UK for his successful collaboration with Akram Khan, he is one of today’s rising stars and a prolific choreographer. If the programme, entitled Chassé-Croisé, did not live up to its promise of exchanges and interactions between the two choreographers, they did share the use of music by 17th century composers and designs by Karl Lagerfeld, a long-term friend of the company. Unfortunately, these produced hideously unflattering costumes for Maillot’s ballet and conventional ultra-chic ones for Cherkaoui. Maillot’s Altro Canto was an eloquent and inventive abstract ballet to music by Monteverdi, while Cherkaoui’s extremely ambitious and interesting work, Mea Culpa was danced mainly to music by Heinrich Schultz and was only partially successful in addressing problems as vast as globalisation, exploitation and imperialism. Both works showed the company in peak form responding to the huge challenges set by the choreographers both technically and interpretatively. Exceptional performances were given by the men, Asier Uriagereka, Rodolphe Lucas, Jérome Marchand, Ramon Gomes Reis, and also by Bernice Coppieters.
The company return to Monte-Carlo for the final performances of the season at a special open-air venue in the gardens of the Casino in August. In the glossy superficiality of Monte-Carlo today, where high-rise apartments, fast cars and luxury yachts dominate, the Ballets de Monte-Carlo are to be congratulated in continuing to create artistically successful and challenging dance performances and in attracting a large and faithful following. In this 20th anniversary season, one must wish them many happy returns.
By Christina Gallea Roy
Theatre enCorps and Efva Lilja
Ever since an exchange to the University College of Dance in Stockholm, I have wondered why there is so little formal exchange between Swedish choreographers and the UK.
The city is a breeding ground for new, exciting work. There is a House of Dance, Opera House, Modern Dance Theatre, Culture Centre, Dance Centre and Blue. There’s also a Dance Museum.
When Isadora Duncan first wowed Stockholm audiences in 1906, the Swedes were rapt. A year later, Anna Behles founded the Plastikinstitut and dance became a permanent fixture.
The modern dance scene prospered under the overseeing eye of the mothers of Swedish dance – Birgit Cullberg and Birgit Akesson. In the 1980s it exploded with choreographers Per Jonsson, Kenneth Kvarnström, Birgitta Egerbladh, and Efva Lilja.
Lilja set up her company Efva Lilja Dansproduktion in 1985 and quickly became known for her experimental, site-specific works in trees, bunk beds, snow and ice, a library, a clinic, a rock club, a slaughterhouse and a rubber factory.
Last summer she was invited by choreographer/dancer Ana Sanchez-Colberg of Theatre enCorps to participate in The Place’s “Choreodrome” project.
The double-bill shown at The Place on May 2-3 arose from conversations about memory; the story of the body and physical expression within boundaries set by the aging process.
Holds No Memory is a gestural solo for Sanchez-Colberg. Resulting from a team of artists including a sociologist, a philosopher, a social gerontologist and a doctor of economics, the aim was to reveal how experience and memory can be physically expressed through movement. Perhaps slightly self-indulgent/egotistic, she does well to keep the attention of her audience, right down to the wiggling of her toes.
With swan shadow puppet hands, smiles and spitting out bad memories, she pinches parts of her body, clenching muscles and convulsing.
Solace is often found in stillness – after flinging repetitions, Ek-ian mutterings and pawing at her body – tension dissimilates to leave a fatigued wreck, breathing heavily. Repetition and monotony snaps into running or rolling across the stage, with pirouettes and even a plié or two thrown in to the mix.
There is an intense, almost neurotic emotionalism. The performance succeeds in the expression of this raw emotion and the connection with her deeply personal journey.
Using The Eye In The Middle Of Your Head features 65-year-old Kari Swylan and 69-year-old Jan Abramson. It is an intelligent, sensitive piece about two characters – their relationship, fears and desires.
Swylan, an ex-Cullberg ballet soloist, sits on the floor rubbing her hands over her body from feet to neck, dwelling on her breasts and washing the movement upwards and back down to her feet. She writes secretive messages on the floor or in the air with her fingers, and makes wide sweeping gestures, as if collecting her memories and experiences in bundles in her arms.
Abramson rolls an invisible bubble that he pushes away, gives a little dandy hop-skip and whistles a tune. He removes his suit and stands in white pants, breathing hard. His near naked vulnerability is combined with unbearable laughing metallic voices. It is a physical image that we are rarely presented with and it is a powerful statement.
They look intensely at one another and the audience with amazement and fear, their gazes as charged as the relentless electro-acoustic music. It strikes a chord in me somewhere that no other choreographer has ever managed to reach.
Here’s hoping that Lilja’s sensitive, challenging and engaging choreography has stuck a flag in the summit of recognition. Perhaps now it’s time to realise that Swedish contemporary dance is a highly exportable product.
By Katie Phillips
Robert Hylton is known for pushing the boundaries of hip hop (to coin an over-used but nonetheless apt phrase in this sphere of dance), and his unique, self-styled company Urban Classicism has become well known as a pioneering force after the sell-out success of Physical Elements in 2004. His latest piece, Verse&Verses, was shown at the Purcell Rooms at London’s Queen Elizabeth Hall in May, and the programme notes promised much of Hylton’s signatory fusion of hip hop and contemporary dance. In this respect, the audience were not disappointed. Hylton himself dances with a technical know-how that spans various styles, and classical lines reveal themselves amidst locking movements, while his weighty delivery exhibits a distinctly “contemporary” groundedness. Occasional flings of his long, slack arms create an air of gawkishness, although the oversized nylon outfit (think Harry Enfield as grungy teenager Kevin) perhaps exacerbated this image. The costumes were hideous: there are no two ways about it, although Hylton’s basis for the piece – taking the very essence of the music from the grooves of a 9” – was a surprisingly fresh and ambitious take on a reasonably unoriginal idea.
The soundscapes engineered by turntable champ Billy Biznizz, onstage and stationed behind decks for much of the performance, were promising at first although the score became dismembered to such an extent that it was resonant of the tinny demo on an old Casio keyboard I once loved. Indeed, the piece itself suffered from the same over-fragmentation.
The six performers were a mixed bag; Hylton himself dancing mostly apart from the others, and while Rose Chu projected a justified air of confidence (so brilliantly quick that she ran the risk of out dancing her counterparts at various points), Paula Vacarey – although an authentic and excellent B-girl – fell off the other end of the scale in terms of technique and stage presence. Jake Nwogu and Theo Alade were impressive, with Nwogu’s athletic jumps revealing his previous ballet training and providing the highlight of the evening. A shame then that Hylton, seemingly randomly, decided to have all the dancers perform a kind of mock-ballet sequence, Rose Chu all withery arms, as if to contrast to the power of the hip hop/contemporary fusion seen moments earlier. All this unsubtle reference really served to do was highlight – with the exception of Nwogu – the incompetence of the dancers in this style. I didn’t go to see how bad the company are at ballet, I went to see how good they are at their namesake: Urban Classicism.
There’s no doubt that Hylton has a unique and refreshing approach, but in terms of choreography, there is some way to go before his goal is reached.
By Katie Gregory
Breakin’ Convention ‘06 Sadler’s Wells, London
A leavening of criticism accompanied the much deserved praise for this year’s Breakin’ Convention. It probably didn’t help that founder and curator Jonzi-D’s cryptically uncertain on-stage explanations of the relevance of this year’s theme – “Revolutions Per Minute” – didn’t flesh out his pre-show statements about establishing a theatrical role for this genre. Although the tenor of the press reviews appeared to have been a mixture of “not yet,” with a hint of “if ever,” none could deny the passionate enthusiasm of the overwhelmingly youthful audiences who had avidly bought every available ticket for the weekend’s many events.
Evolving organisational problems in how to deal with such a high energy audience gave additional weight to the criticisms, although in reality they appeared essentially to be about how to handle its runaway success! On arriving at the venue on Saturday it became obvious that the previous informal blurring of open foyer dancing with classes, film shows and stage performances was coming under strain. Audience anxiety about securing the unassigned seating led to many choosing to sit for a long time in the auditorium rather than watching or participating in the dancing outside. On Sunday, long waiting lines formed instead when the management kept the audience out of the auditorium until just half an hour or so before the show started.
No doubt the foyer activity is part of Jonzi D’s vision of making
the event as inclusive as possible, as well as meeting the usually
expected remit of encouraging local youth dance. A determined core of the
latter persisted in showing their moves on the first foyer level for the
smaller crowds they drew, thus indicating its continuing relevance. The
prevailing press interest however was focused on related fissures that
divided the carefully structured performances of the overseas groups from
the alleged endless hordes of “gyrating young hoodie garbed performers
from these shores”, as one of them put it.
By Terry Monaghan
Ballet at La Scala, and Around
French-born Frédéric Olivieri has directed La Scala Ballet since 2002, after a short interim appointment. He had had wide experience beforehand, first with the Paris Opéra Ballet (from Violette Verdy’s time to Rudolf Nureyev’s – I remember him as an exceptionally fine Blue Bird), then the Ballets de Monte-Carlo and the Hamburg Ballet – but was obliged to give up dancing following a serious injury. From 1996 to 1998 he was maître de ballet with Maggio Danza (Florence), and he has also worked with the Zürich Ballet. A fluent and likeable communicator, during a quite long interview in his office he talked of his aims and achievements. He is proud of the increased touring, both nationally and internationally, now increased to 40 performances a year. The company has visited many far-flung countries and is now due to perform Balanchine’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream (a revival) in China and Hong Kong in the autumn, resulting in the postponement of the revival of Nureyev’s The Sleeping Beauty (which he made for La Scala in 1966). Olivieri would, naturally, like to widen the repertory and bring in more new works, though the current reduction in subsidies inevitably causes problems. A new work from Christopher Wheeldon is due in May as part of a programme with a Mozart label (the company has already performed his Polyphonia). Olivieri has maintained the link with Paris by (rather inopportunely in the Bournonville bicentenary year) opening the season with Pierre Lacotte’s version of La Sylphide, with guests Aurélie Dupont and Leonid Sarafanov in the leading roles; Nureyev’s Paris-made Cinderella arrives later. Olivieri assured me that there is now a faithful audience for ballet in Milan, resulting in the novelty of a separate subscription series for the dance programmes. One improvement now is that all the programmes are being given at La Scala itself, whereas last season most were hived off to the Teatro degli Arcimboldi, the custom-built replacement on the outskirts of Milan where all the operas and ballets were performed during the long closure. After being shut at length in its turn, this is now a venue for visiting companies, including Boris Eifman’s in Red Giselle, the Ballet Boyz with Sylvie Guillem, Angelin Preljocaj’s Four Seasons, and one with half a Scala label: La Strada, being given with Roberto Bolle and Darcey Bussell in Roland Petit’s Le Jeune homme et la mort.
There is perhaps excessive reliance on Alessandra Ferri and Roberto Bolle, both of whom are also busy elsewhere – Ferri with American Ballet Theater and touring groups, and Bolle in demand all over Italy as well as in London. Guest artists are frequently called on, too: Svetlana Zakharova and Leonid Sarafanov are announced for La Bayadère (May), Darcey Bussell appeared with Bolle in Manon, and Robert Tewsley is due to partner Ferri in the revival of Roland Petit’s ballet La Chauve-Souris (Die Fledermaus) in September.
Apart from his international forays, Bolle is everywhere in Italy: he appeared in the pre-Winter Olympics show in Turin, and in Florence – where Giorgio Mancini, ex Ballet of the Grand Théâtre in Geneva, is currently the director of Maggio Danza. Bolle is also announced for a programme rather embarrassingly entitled Roberto Bolle et l’amour (a double bill of works by Jirí Kylián and Mancini). In addition to her Scala and ABT commitments, Ferri has been touring with a group of Paris Opéra dancers.
The Regio opera house in Turin has offered no ballet since the run of the Scala’s Manon in the autumn. Dance is provided at the Teatro Nuovo, with visiting companies, and by Loredana Furno’s Balletto Teatro di Torino, which frequently features works by Matteo Levaggi. Reggio Emilia remains the home of Aterballetto, while the opera houses in Genoa and Modena are among the more important receiving houses.
In Rome, Carla Fracci is not only directing the company but also appearing in some of the productions, devised by her husband, Beppe Menegatti. Thus, in a production of The Nutcracker with choreography by Jean-Yves Lormeau “after Petipa(?) and Ivanov”, the grandmother apparently became an important character. Fracci is having a busy season, appearing in Swan Lake (as the Queen Mother) and responsible for the choreography of Cinderella – “after” Alfred Rodrigues and Loris Gai, these at the Opera House, and in the title role of The Roman Spring of Mrs Stone at the Teatro Nazionale down the road. That theatre is due to host a Shostakovich Festival (devised by Menegatti) and several other programmes, which include – all with a small orchestra only – a remake of La Gitana, with choreography by Paul Chalmer, while Menegatti’s two-part Dal Faust di Goethe (at the Opera House) is due to have choreography by Wayne Eagling. Other dance performances take place during the concert season of the Accademia Filarmonica at the Teatro Olimpico, and other venues.
At the Teatro San Carlo in Naples, where the ballet company is directed by Elisabetta Terabust, the only ballets so far announced for this season are Giselle and Swan Lake, the latter with Polina Semionova and the apparently indispensable Roberto Bolle. Further south, the once important Teatro Petruzzelli in Bari, with a huge stage and auditorium, and a large catchment area, is only now being rebuilt and due to reopen next year. How much dance will feature there is now unknown. There is the Balletto di Puglia, directed by Toni Candeloro, formerly a fine dancer and now tending to concentrate on partial productions of Fokine ballets, such as The Firebird.
So, La Scala is still clearly at the top of the Italian classical ballet league table, but there is still room for improvement in the programming. Also, there is no news of any budding choreographic talent emerging from the company (it remains uncomfortably true that there has been no internationally famous Italian ballet since Luigi Manzotti’s 1881 Excelsior). There is much left for Frédéric Olivieri to put his hand to.Freda Pitt
Jonzi-D Tag… Me vs The City
An excited youthful audience packed the Peacock Theatre for the London opening night of Jonzi-D’s latest production, Tag – Me vs. The City. In fact there was very little grey hair on display. In this production Jonzi D, curator of the immensely successful annual Breakin’ Convention at Sadler’s Wells and many other related activities, has made a major pitch at attracting the legions of youthful hip hop dance fans to theatrical production.
From behind a row of imposing sculptured graffiti designs, the production opened with flashing searchlights as if looking for an escapee, who eventually appears in the shape of the main character played by Banxy. As the lights brightened the other dancers could be seen on the sculptures from which they slowly writhed as they outlined the title letters of the production in a kind of contact improvisation. Wearing a military style gas mask for no obvious reason, Banxy then took over.
Striding round the stage, he convincingly portrayed an outsider figure with problems with authority, occasionally “tagging” i.e. spraying his graffiti name on walls, whilst primarily either animating into, or freezing the dancers from, explorations of the art of “physical calligraphy” with his aerosol. Especially effective is Benjamin Wachenje's video animation of a London tube train that periodically approaches the audience from the concrete jungle and then thunders by giving quick flashes of “tagging” on the carriages. (One doubts any supportive funding from Transport For London.) In one memorable scene, the circular movement of the tube train image is taken up by the dancers who execute a similar fast turning circle into which they dived and performed the by now familiar litany of solo breaking pieces.
Despite the undoubted talent and skill of the six dancers in the production, this kind of brevity seemed to be the main hindrance. Establishing the narrative means Banxy has to overplay the comedy aspects of his interaction with the dancers, which although done well, is nevertheless at the expense of their individual opportunities to make significant dance statements. Difficulties arise when a featured cast of “stars” enjoy few opportunities to gel into one cohesive group. It is usually wise when projecting this kind of composite dance form to enable the dancers to creatively differentiate their individual “voices” out of shared rhythmic concerns. Related to this was the seemingly disjointed music/sound backing by DJ Pogo that was also subordinated to the primacy of Banxy’s role.
Nevertheless the dancers shone through when they got the opportunity, especially K and Tommy Franzen. I would like to have seen more of Nathan Geering who gave indications of remarkable talent. Maria Swainson, replacing Katie P who dropped out due to injury, was probably the least convincing because of “dance school” training rather than any lack of ability. Banxy appropriately understated his own formidable dancing ability until just the right moment at the end. After an amusing sequence in which “his creations” deliberately play with him by staying one dance move ahead whilst he desperately tries to join in, he finally gets to be an “insider” by catching up and crowns the scene with his own spectacular acrobatic finish. As the dancers dropped into a relaxed but fundamental rhythmic unison during the final bows they got to the place for which they had striven so hard throughout the production. Needless to say the young audience thundered out its appreciation for this imaginative effort.
Nus Dansa: Límit
In recent years, Taliesin Arts Centre – situated on the campus of
University of Wales Swansea – has established a reputation as a venue
ideally suited to the presentation of contemporary dance. Apart from
playing host to visiting companies, including Vincent
Forthcoming contemporary dance/dance theatre events at Taliesin include Earthfall’s critically acclaimed At Swim Two Boys (Friday May 12) and Diversions Dance Company’s Alternative Routes 2006 (Thursday June 15). For further details visit www.taliesinartscentre.co.uk or contact the Box Office on 01792 602060.
Christina Gallea Roy
From Melbourne to New York
Arriving at Sadler’s Wells for the premiere of the much talked
about Edward Scissorhands, I realised this was no ordinary opening.
Green carpet lined the pavement and there was a barrier at one side to
contain members of the paparazzi who were straining to snap the rich and
fabulous as they walked by. Once inside, the carpet was adorned with small
strangely shaped shrubs – which anyone who had seen the film would have
recognised instantly as a tribute to the remarkable topiary skills
Scissorhands discovers he possesses. The champagne was flowing, sparkling
outfits shone from every direction and the place was positively buzzing
with excitement from floor to ceiling.
Jasmin Vardimon – Park
The park of Jasmin Vardimon’s prankish piece is no green city
oasis. Merle Hensel designs a municipal communal ground, fenced with wire
and littered with drink cans. A bag lady unexpectedly unleashes some
whirling va-va-voom, impelled by the weight of her own heavily stuffed
carriers. Someone’s sleeping rough at the side, and the whole place is
just waiting for someone to slap an ASBO on it. At the back, a neglected
mermaid fountain trickles away desultorily (until the mermaid herself
clambers off her pedestal).
Charles Linehan Company
Charles Linehan’s choreography will never deliver kicks to a mass audience, but its understated, moody intelligence inspires deeply-felt admiration – even adoration – from dancers, fellow choreographers, critics, thinking audiences and at least some promoters. Considering this, he has been singularly unsuccessful in attracting funding – at least in the UK (Joint Adventures in Munich was the principal funder for his latest work). Though he can tick the core “artistic excellence” checkbox on funding applications, he doesn’t score highly in the “peripheral” categories of community/education work, cultural diversity, self-promotion and entrepreneurship. In short, he’s the kind of artist that the system fails rather than supports. Thanks, then, to Dance Umbrella, which has continued to back him over the years, and commissioned both works on his current programme.
New Quartet is in fact a reworked version of the 2003 commission Disintegration Loops. At that time it seemed too diffuse, but it now looks considerably tauter and more focused. Mikki Kunttu’s warm lighting washes the stage, as lush and as saturated as Julians Swales’ music. Greig Cooke opens, followed by Andreja Rausch, separated in their corridors of light, gradually, almost unintentionally moving towards each other, into a casual duet that happens almost as if by chance. Rahel Vonmoos and Ben Ash are the next couple, again entering separately. Their encounter is spikier, sliced and sectioned by slashing arms and torso blocks. Later Ash lets his head rest like a comma in the bracket of Vonmoos’s curved arm, and she hooks his hand under her chin in a tentative gesture of acknowledgement. The stage becomes increasingly invaded by shadows; the music too darkens and grows sparse, as the dancers become more floorbound, manipulating their limbs as if their own bodies were reluctant to obey them. It’s a dance of exits and entrances, as much about departure as connection: it may be a quartet, but mostly you see an unsettled pattern of solos, duets and trios, as each new entry provokes another exit.
Happy Days, Linehan’s new work, is superb; a spare, introspective piece that accumulates a mesmerising intensity as it unfolds. Here the music begins sparsely, a simple octave repeated on the guitar, and gradually grows more dense. Cooke and Vonmoos are the separated couple that open this time, and again their encounter is casual, almost indifferent. When Andreja Rausch enters, again she displaces someone else from the stage – as if three really were a crowd, but sometimes it happens that way. The music darkens to a scratchy, looped recording of a plaintive piano phrase, and again there’s that haunting sense of separateness. Even when the dancers are close to each other, you see the personal space around and between them. And that encapsulates one of Linehan’s recurrent themes – or so it seems to me. He doesn’t just choreograph movement, though you’re certainly gripped by its detail (excellently performed by the cast): a spread-armed pose that hovers as if in anticipation, or a two-stage collapse of an elbow that speaks of a tentative giving-in. He’s also expert at choreographing space. Whether the dancers are close or far apart, you sense both the contact and the distance between them – spaces that speak volumes about how people interact.Sanjoy Roy
The Royal Ballet Manon
Such is the popularity of Kenneth MacMillan’s Manon that it
is now in the repertoire of a range of companies all over the world. This
autumn and winter will see performances of the ballet in Berlin, Milan,
Turin, London and Copenhagen. Manon returned to the repertoire of
The Royal Ballet on November 4 in an excellently staged and danced
revival. Nicholas Georgiadis’ familiar sets and costumes looked
magnificent, and were beautifully lit by John B. Read like an old master
painting. Leanne Benjamin, who led the first performance, has fully
matured into the title role since her debut ten years ago and she
successfully places great emphasis on Manon’s youth and impetuosity.
Making his debut as Des Grieux that night, Federico Bonelli danced with
customary elegance, and his performance was notable for an understated and
naturalistic attention to detail. Martin Harvey’s Lescaut is a charming
chancer and determined social climber, well matched in a sharply
characterised and spirited performance by Laura Morera as Lescaut’s
Mistress. This was an excellent company performance, and would have been
memorable had it not been completely overshadowed by an incandescent
account of the work the following afternoon.
Paris Opéra Ballet Le Parc
Angelin Preljocaj’s Le Parc, made for the Paris Opéra Ballet
in 1994, is best known in Britain for the fact that The Royal Ballet
didn’t dance it. Ross Stretton had scheduled the ballet; when Monica Mason
replaced him, she decided that Le Parc would not suit her dancers.
In Paris, Le Parc is a popular hit, and it was chosen for the Paris
Opéra’s first London visit in 22 years. It fits in nicely with Dance
Umbrella’s “France Moves” season, it’s sumptuously dressed and it
emphasises the Paris Opéra’s policy of commissioning new ballets. Yet it
tells us little about these dancers. You get glimpses of style, seen
through the thickets of Preljocaj’s choreography.
Austin is lively. It’s the capital of the State of Texas. But
there’s more than politics there. Austin has a thriving cultural community
and a quirky pop, folk, and rock music scene. It’s also the home of the
University of Texas, which, in addition to academic courses, offers ballet
and modern dance. Both Igor Youskevitch and Leon Danielian once headed its
By Jack Anderson
Eliot Feld, Gravity and Juilliard
Whatever goes up comes down. That’s gravity. Whatever comes down
will probably go up again. That’s what happens in many dances by Eliot
Feld. It happened again and again in Sir Isaac’s Apples, his new
work for students in the dance division of Juilliard, the remarkable
school of music, dance, and drama that is now 100 years old.
By Jack Anderson
Opera-Dance: The Midsummer Marriage
Fifty years after its premiere at Covent Garden, Sir Michael
Tippett’s first opera was revived there on October 31, in the centenary
year of the composer’s birth. The production by Graham Vick dates from
1996 with designs by Paul Brown and Wolfgang Gobbel’s original lighting
now is charge of David Harvey. The principal singers were mostly different
this time, but the choreography by Ron Howells for the all-important
Ritual Dances, which almost fill the opera’s middle act, remain basically
the same, and I am again saddened to find them no more than serviceable,
By Noël Goodwin
Independent Ballet Wales: Hamlet and A Midsummer
A dramatic opening tableau launches Independent Ballet Wales’s new
staging of Hamlet, choreographed by Darius James and danced to the
music of Tchaikovsky’s Fantasy Overture, which I saw in Lichfield on
September 14. Half a dozen characters hover grimly – or guiltily – over
the body of Hamlet’s father, the murdered king. Poison hangs in the air.
It’s one of the characteristically imaginative touches from a young team
that, at its best, reworks Shakespeare’s stories with real flair. The
icing on the cake is the gifted young dancer Keir Briody as the agonised
Boston Ballet in Cinderella
James Kudelka’s Cinderella is a large, ambitious work that
requires a company of dancers who can project styles other than classical
ballet technique, plus a comic sensibility existing nearly side by side
with the romantic yearnings of the beloved heroine. Moreover, the
production must be mounted in a theatre that’s equipped with all the
rigging, grids and technological support for a large story ballet that
runs two and a half hours with two intervals, not to mention an orchestra
with the expertise to perform Sergei Prokofiev’s score.
David Hughes Dance Company
The recently launched David Hughes Dance Company, following success
on the Fringe at this year’s Edinburgh Festival, embarked on a short tour
beginning in Dundee and ending at the Linbury Theatre of The Royal Opera
House on September 15 and 16. Hughes, a remarkably gifted dancer who has
appeared with Rambert, LCDT, Siobhan Davies Dance Company and Phoenix, as
well as freelancing, is now anxious to progress from purely solo work to
commissioning diverse dance from a variety of choreographers. For this
first programme, after a 20 year career as a dancer, Hughes made his first
piece for the company, “really nervous but very excited” by the prospect.
He called it simply in company, used Vivaldi music, and presented
his dancers in simple, attractive costumes, lit, a little spasmodically,
by Simon Gane. A pleasant opening number. This was followed by the solo
Siobhan Davies made for Hughes to L’Apres midi d’un faune, a
languorous study of self-awareness and physical grace as the dancer
responds, personally, to the music. Choreographers are, not surprisingly,
very willing to create for such a vibrant dancer and for this first
programme both Javier De Frutos and Rafael Bonachela made new pieces. The
De Frutos work, El uno y Medio, a solo for Hughes, was a wildly
emotional Spanish flamenco number in a vaguely Spanish setting, two
paintings, a large table, which was supposed to depict Jason’s grief at
the loss of his children. No doubt about the passion of the dance, but it
did rather resemble the style of Joaquín Cortés, difficult to reconcile
with the stated subject matter. Rafael Bonachela contributed
Freeze-Frame, a 21-minute dance, to mixed music including some from
Nine Inch Nails and Throbbing Gristle, for Hughes and his three dancers,
Alan Lambie, Kally Lloyd-Jones, and Rachel Morrow, all in black unisex
frocks. The choreography displayed their technical skills in many
Cathy Marston’s Ghosts
The choreographer Cathy Marston has just completed three years as
an Associate Artist of the Royal Opera House, which allowed her the time
as well as a stage on which to develop her choreographic talent. The
culmination of this assignment is Ghosts, which opened at the
Linbury on September 22, based on Ibsen’s gloomy, moralistic play of
infidelity and inherited disease. Marston has used literature as the basis
of several works in the past, including Sophie’s Choice and The
Tempest, but with Ghosts she gave herself a very difficult
task. With Edward Kemp, her dramaturg, she has kept the themes of the
play, but has also brought to life characters only mentioned.
Momix returned to London after an absence of a decade for a season of Opus Cactus at The
Peacock Theatre in mid-September. Founded by Moses Pendleton a quarter of
a century ago, the company combines dance with acrobatics, but the dance
element in Opus Cactus, the full evening work they brought this
time, was much smaller than in earlier works. Pendleton says his
inspiration was the flora and fauna of the Arizona desert, which he
observed some years ago, and the piece is a revision of a work originally
created for Ballet Arizona. The music, however, is mainly generic Middle
Eastern and Aboriginal.
By Patricia Daly
Union Dance appeared at the Linbury Theatre on October 14 for one
performance only as part of Black History Month. The house was full of
enthusiastic young people, and there was an air of anticipation as disco
music played over the loudspeakers. Consisting of seven dancers, and
directed by Corrine Bougaard, Union Dance aims to “…shift perspectives by
exploring and expressing an identity that reflects the growing cultural
fusion of contemporary society”. This desire to create a contemporary
cultural fusion in dance must surely have prompted the company to
commission two works by the newly fashionable British based choreographers
Mavin Khoo and Rafael Bonachela for their programme Sensing Change.
According to the programme note Sensing Change “…investigates our
rapidly changing ideals through dance, music, video and eye-catching
design”. Mavin Khoo’s Pure C has the look and sound of a nightclub
about it, with back projections, dancers performing on podiums, and
unusual costumes with “internal” lights and hair fringes along the back
and legs. Oddly, its “look” reminded me of the costumes Body Map created
for Michael Clark 20 years ago, and of my own long gone “clubbing days” at
The Fridge – hardly contemporary! Khoo’s choreography, however, plays
against this retro atmosphere by consisting of mainly slow controlled
movements, including leg extensions, and exotic, South East Asian style
hand and head movements. Much of the movement is beautiful in its own
right, but it does not build up to a sustained sequence of interesting
choreography. The dancers are good, but they often seemed cautious and
lacking in spontaneity, which, to be fair, might have been the result of
trying to negotiate their movements around the relatively small space of
the Linbury stage.
London Children’s Ballet
I owe one of the biggest revelations of my childhood to Oscar
Wilde’s The Canterville Ghost: once I had read it I no longer felt
I had to be frightened of ghosts. In fact, I was very sympathetic to the
poor ghost’s plight. There he was in his grand estate of Canterville
Chase, which he had happily haunted for several centuries, leaning against
a beam of moonlight remembering his proud past of spreading horror amongst
owners and servants in various, vicious ways. Things changed and a
liberal, modern 19th century American family has moved in, who don’t care
for mysterious blood stains on the wall and use Pinkerton’s Champion Stain
Remover to get rid of them. Much to the ghost’s disdain he is asked by the
head of the family, Mr Otis, to apply Tammany Rising Sun Lubricator to his
rusty chains, the sound of which had left so many inhabitants of the house
sleepless. He turns from tormentor into tormented targeted by the family’s
Green Candle Dance Company
Green Candle Dance Company has embarked on a countrywide tour this month with
Listening Eyes, a charming piece of dance theatre created for both
hearing and deaf children and their families.
Listening Eyes will tour schools across London until July 1
but public performances will also take place at the following
Alison Kirkman 27/05/05
Vienna Festival Ballet
Opportunities to see dance in a small city like Lancaster are
limited at best, so Vienna Festival Ballet is always a welcome sight. It
is are a small company who work tirelessly to take the great classics to
places that would otherwise never get to see them, not having large enough
stages to accommodate any of the major companies. Their repertoire is
Tchaikovsky-heavy, including Swan Lake, Sleeping Beauty and
The Nutcracker, along with other classics such as Giselle,
Cinderella and Coppelia.
Claire McIlreavy 30/04/05
More Grim[m] Desires
More Grim[m] Desires really does not leave much to be desired. Initially a site specific work, Grim[m] Desires, created for the Wapping Power Station Jerwood project, it is now a stage production set for touring throughout April and May.
The gloomy almost dungeon-like boiler room in the Power Station was an ideal set for the piece, with ghostly light coming in through the tall windows. The stage version can’t quite capture the same eeriness. Maresa von Stockert still delivers her take on the popular collection of stories by the Grimm brothers with dark humour, possibly even darker than in Grim[m] Desires. The highlight remains the deadpan voiceover. Dancers grapple with the moveable parts of the scenery, two huge, wardrobe-like, black boxes, which replace the walls, doors, pillars, and balconies in the boiler room – a whole new challenge for the performers, who have to push them into place, turn them, open them and lift them. The boxes turn into tables, doors to forbidden chambers, cupboards and Rapunzel’s tower. The stage works on a bigger scale than the small boiler room with its nooks and crannies, so there is even more artificial hair flying about when Rapunzel has everyone in her prince’s kingdom shorn and there is the added delight of two plastic frogs which adds to the “yuk-factor”. It is highly enjoyable to try and follow the cleverly constructed story’s little twists and turns and work out who is related to who as various princes re-marry acquiring step mothers for their various Cinderellas and Snow Whites. Maresa von Stockert pondering on desires has gone beyond the boy-loves-girl dimension, which in one way or another is the stock scenario in most fairy tales. She has emphasised other kinds of desire in the Grimm tales – the desire to be beautiful (Snow White’s step mother), the desire to be accepted as equal (the Frog), and quite mundane desires, too, like the obsession with beautiful hair Rapunzel comes to despise so much. It is a nod and a wink to all of us when Cinderella’s prince during his long search for the girl to fit the silver slipper, forgets the object of his search and becomes absorbed in shoes of all shapes and sizes. Wouldn’t we all live happily ever after, if we had unlimited access to “all kinds of footwear”?
Both Sitting Duet
I don't know what I thought would happen. I knew what to expect:
"Two middle-aged men sitting on chairs waving their arms about in silence
for 45 minutes." That's how Jonathan Burrows himself had described Both
Sitting Duet to me. What I didn't expect was the surprise at the
absolute accuracy of this description, that made me laugh only seconds
into the performance. And I wasn't the only one. It was very amusing and I
can't quite work out why. The 45 minutes passed amazingly quickly. Before
I knew it, Matteo Fargion and Jonathan Burrow s got up from their chairs,
bowed and were gone. I was left to gather my thoughts and make sense of
what I had just seen.
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