Wednesday, 15 June 2011

White Lodge Open Day

Royal Ballet School Open Day, White Lodge – reviewed on 11th June

Once every two years, the gorgeous home of the Royal Ballet lower school and Grade 1 listed building White Lodge opens its doors to the public. A fun day out for the whole family, there are stalls selling food and merchandise and tours around the school and its ballet museum. But of course the highlight is the students performing in the gardens.

Junior Associates showed a suite of 17th Century English dances. Just 8-10 years old, they danced simple steps (mainly walks) but in impressively complicated patterns. With plenty of confidence and excellent posture, they seemed assured and capable young dancers.

Year 7 school students performed the party dance from The Nutcracker with precision and charm. The ballroom scene from Kenneth MacMillan’s Romeo and Juliet by Year 10 was superb. Students had mastered the elegant, regal feeling of the choreography to perfection and seemed to glide across the floor. The Swan Lake peasant dance shown by Year 11 was more like aerobics in terms of the level of energy required. However, it was performed with technical accuracy as well as the pleasant, relaxed-looking faces of any professional corps de ballet.

The Royal Ballet School’s folk and national dancing displays were exemplary. Year 8 performed an Irish reel with outstanding understanding of the upright and still upper body combined with vigorously-moving legs that typify its style. Boys in Year 10 showed the highly energetic morris ‘rapper’ dance, holding long metal swords as they weaved around each other. Alexander Bird and John Rhys Halliwell from Year 11 demonstrated the clog dance, moving their feet in a precise and speedy fashion, similar to tap. Years 7-10 performed various styles of character dance; the Year 8 Tarantella with its fun and liveliness and the vibrant Year 10 Hungarian proved to be particular highlights.

The performance’s only weakness was the Year 11 demonstration of contemporary dance. The piece, entitled Momentum, lacked the dynamics its name implied and was performed by students in an all-too balletic and exacting manner. It lacked the feelings of suspension, weight and flight that such choreography requires.

All in all, the students demonstrated sound classical technique and superb folk and national dancing skills. Clearly, the Royal Ballet School is providing an exemplary training for these young dancers, and it is wonderful to be able to enjoy and admire their hard work.

Saturday, 11 June 2011

Lady of the Camellias

Lady of the Camellias, American Ballet Theatre, Metropolitan Opera House – reviewed on 4th June

Alexandre Dumas' novel has inspired numerous artistic works, including films, ballets, musicals and most notably the Verdi opera La Traviata. ABT’s latest production uses John Neumeier's 1978 choreography, which shows clear characterisation and narrative but lacks the punch of other interpretations.

It tells the tale of courtesan Maguerite Gautier as she falls in love with Armand and tries to start a new, straightforward life. But her scandalous past is close behind and she ends up sick and alone. Neumeir chooses to parallel the story with that of the ballet Manon. We first meet Marguerite as she is in a theatre audience watching it, and Manon mirrors the main character’s behaviour and motivations throughout. It is an interesting concept which translates well in terms of narrative overlap, but proves an unnecessary distraction from the primary action.

Neumeir’s choreography is at times exquisitely understated, with minute hand gestures providing detailed insight into characters’ states of mind. At others, the dancing seems exaggerated and overdramatic, with Armand (Marcelo Gomes) falling on the floor melodramatically in his passion. Diana Vishneva saved some of the poorer choreography with her fabulous acting. She made Marguerite alluring and powerful whilst still credible and well-deserving of sympathy.

The score, mainly played on the piano, was beautiful but overly repetitive and lacking attention-grabbing highlights. Costumes were made of delightfully sumptuous velvets and satins, all detailed elaborately. Sets were contrastingly and frustratingly sparse; few items of furniture on an empty stage feebly represented luxurious apartments.

The ballet’s main failing was in its excessive length. The second and third acts dragged with endless ballroom scenes and a lack of pace in the narrative. A fall and several missed jumps also suggested dancers were under-rehearsed.

Lady of the Camellias was generally well-performed by ABT but music and choreography lacked the drama to bring the exquisitely heartbreaking story fully to life.

NYCB Triple

Divertimento No. 15/ 2 & 3 Part Inventions/ Mercurial Manoeuvres, New York City Ballet, Lincoln Centre – reviewed on 1st June

New York City Ballet’s triple bill of abstract works showed superb technique but lacked vivacity.

In Jerome Robbins’ 2 & 3 Part Inventions, dancers performed in simple practice clothes, their movements following the moods of the music from quiet and reflective to playful and energetic. Originally created for students of the School of American Ballet, the piece was simply choreographed, and lacked the dynamism of a professional company work. Robbins’ style felt formulaic – using very classical movements with occasional modern adjustments (like rotating the back or walking on pointe with bent knees). Typical ballet plus a couple of contemporary twists equals, in this case, a pleasant but hardly thrilling ballet.

Mercurial Manoeuvres, Christopher Wheeldon’s 2000 work, was equally unremarkable. Dressed like air hostesses, women twirled, unfolded and weaved. Men, in all-in-one red bodysuits leapt and spun. A nice ballet performed with technical excellence, but nothing extraordinary.

Fortunately, George Balanchine's Divertimento No. 15 was much more entertaining. Six lead females performed in blue, sparkly tutus and each showed a technically-proficient solo of typical Balanchine-style rapid changes of position and direction. Andrew Veyette danced elegantly with impressive elevation in his fiendishly difficult jumps. Megan Fairchild performed exceptionally, making her movements look light and effortless. In her tiny beats and lightning-quick steps, she found moments of breath and stillness. The rest of the cast was satisfactory and technically adept, but it was only Fairchild who managed to express the fun and sentiment of Balanchine’s choreography.