Thursday, 28 February 2013

February 2013 Round-up

This month, as well as my blogs on Onegin, Sergei Filin, the ROH Ashton mixed bill and 2Faced Dance, I have written:

Two reviews of Tango Fire at the Peacock Theatre - for Dance Today and Londonist
A review of Midnight Tango at the Phoenix Theatre
A review of FLOW at The Print Room
A preview of The Tailor-Made Man at the Arts Theatre

A review of Richard Alston Dance Company at the New Wimbledon Theatre
A review of Henri Oguike's choreography at the Southbank Centre
A review of Titian Metamorphosis (book)

A review of the ROH MacMillan triple bill in Dance International magazine, Spring issue, p.59
I also edited Dance UK's January e-news and Dance UK's magazine Issue 85.

Daniel Hay-Gordon, Thomasin Gülgeҫ in FLOW
Photo by Hugo Glendinning

Tuesday, 26 February 2013

2Faced Dance

Out of his Skin, 2Faced Dance Company, The Place - reviewed on 23rd February

2Faced Dance Company
Photo by Brian Slater
Four square-shaped pillars support two ledges to form an oversized shelving unit in which a man sits, hunched up and shaking. The stage is dark except for a flashing bulb which intermittently reveals the performer's enraged visage. Wearing a black boiler suit, his movements become larger and increasingly aggressive, but we see only his pale face and hands moving in the darkness. A stirring soundscape of both music and electronic sound accompanies, but it is the terrifying thump as he falls backwards from the upper ledge that makes most impact.

On the stage floor, five similarly-dressed dancers then join him and march prisoner-like in and out of squares of light. Choreography develops, increasing in hostility and pace before returning to slow and restrained movements. Throughout, there is an overwhelming sense of oppression as dancers attempt furiously to escape the literal enclosures of light, furniture and costume onstage, and by implication the metaphorical enclosure of ordinary life.

2Faced Dance is a small but talented all-male company. They climb both the shelving unit and other dancers’ bodies with incredible strength and agility, and convey powerfully an inner anger that is both alarming and enticing.
Choreographer Tamsin Fitzgerald describes her inspiration for Out of his Skin as people’s increasing need to take risks in modern day life. But the piece feels like a meditation on the frustration of the mundane rather than a choreographic investigation into risk-taking. Its unceasing aggression and repetitive movements also give a feeling of monotony, which although interesting to explore, does not make for an engaging theatrical experience.
Nevertheless, I found myself smiling once again at dance’s capacity to inspire; a boy aged five or six in the row in front seemed utterly captivated as he leaned forward in his seat and copied the dancers’ arm patterns.

Monday, 25 February 2013

Ashton Mixed Bill

La Valse/ Meditation from Thaïs/ Voices of Spring/ Monotones I and II/ Marguerite and Armand, Royal Ballet, Royal Opera House - reviewed on 15th February
Edward Watson, Marianela Nunez and Federico Bonelli in Monotones II
Photo: Bill Cooper, courtesy of ROH
My £6 back-of-the-amphitheatre ticket seems especially good value when there are five ballets on display. And with the exception of La Valse (which was chaotic and out of sync), this mixed bill of Frederick Ashton choreography made for a supremely enjoyable evening.

Méditation from Thaïs and Voices of Spring, at six and five minutes each, are both duets that offer just a brief taster of Ashton's cleverness. The former, performed by Mara Galeazzi and Rupert Pennefather, is exotically-tinted with fervent and graceful movements revolving around an orange scarf. The latter has all the joy and vibrancy of the season after which it is titled. Emma Maguire shone with her neat, springy footwork and appeared light as a feather as she was lifted expertly by partner Valentino Zucchetti.
Tamra Rojo and Sergei Polunin in Marguerite and Armand
Photo: Bill Cooper, courtesy of ROH

Next was the stunning Monotones I and II, two exquisitely sculptural trios set to Erik Satie's indulgent piano scores, Gymnopédies and Gnossienne. Forming striking shapes in lime green were Emma Maguire, Akane Takada and Dawid Trzensimiech, with Edward Watson, Marianela Nuñez and Federico Bonelli providing a contrasting a lunar-like and interweaving elegance.

The evening’s closing narrative ballet provided a perfect showcase for two former Royal Ballet stars with very different reasons for departing the company. 22-year-old Sergei Polunin left suddenly in January 2012 following artistic disagreements, a desire to run a tattoo parlour and the mounting pressure of his rapid rise to success. Tamara Rojo made instead the transition into dance management, taking over as English National Ballet’s artistic director last September. Together the pair were a superb Marguerite and Armand, with their passion and sincerity making the tragic story (inspired by Alexandre Dumas’s La Dame aux cam
a radiant finish to the evening.

Friday, 15 February 2013

Sergei Filin and the Power of the Arts

“I forgive everyone, and God will be their judge” were the words of Bolshoi Ballet artistic director Sergei Filin on Russian television last week. Currently recovering in hospital, Filin suffered severe burns during a work-related acid attack outside his home on 17 January.

Whilst the attack has prompted outrage, it typifies the level of unrest in the Moscow-based ballet company. Dancers and other staff have recently spoken out to the media regarding unhappiness with the company’s artistic programme and casting.

Filin’s attack is the latest in a series of scandals at the Bolshoi Ballet. Former artistic director, Gennady Yanin, was forced to resign in 2011 after erotic photos of him were posted online. Over the last three months, Filin has received death threats as well as having his tyres slashed and email and Facebook accounts hacked. Police believe the person responsible may be a rival for the Bolshoi’s high-profile director position.

Former dancer Filin remains positive despite his extensive injuries, describing how he once performed Swan Lake with a broken leg. “In comparison, my current hardships aren't so awful – dancing on a broken leg is a lot worse.” He may lose his sight but is insistent he will return to work: “I don't feel angry, I'm not in despair. I'll carry on in just the same way leading the Bolshoi Ballet.” 

Tamara Rojo and Sergei Polunin in the Royal Ballet's Marguerite and Armand
Photo by Bill Cooper, courtesy of ROH
In the wake of these horrific attacks, I question how, why and when the arts stopped being a vehicle for creativity and expression and instead became an excuse for violence. There’s no simple answer to this, but I want to take a moment to remember the power the arts have to unite societies and provide inspiration.

On taking up her position as artistic director of English National Ballet, Tamara Rojo (pictured) stated: “We know the arts sustain us, inspire us, and challenge us to think about our lives. In tough times like this when hope in the future is lost, the arts help lift spirits and waken ambition.”

I know from my background as a teacher the capacity of the arts to engage people of all ages and give them an experience that is both mentally and physically rewarding. Particularly beneficial for young people, the arts encourage working together, developing confidence, having fun and expressing feelings and opinions.

For example, the Royal Ballet’s Chance to Dance programme currently works in 20 London schools, offering children in underprivileged areas quite literally the ‘chance to dance’. A number of former participants have now progressed to full-time vocational dance training and the programme leaves students, according to one teacher, feeling “universally inspired”.
As Filin recovers from his ordeal, it’s important to remember that the arts are here to engage and inspire and should never be a reason for hostility.

Sunday, 10 February 2013

Onegin Interpretations

Onegin, Royal Ballet, Royal Opera House – reviewed on 19th January and 1st February

Alina Cojocaru and Jason Reilly in Onegin
Photo: Bill Cooper, courtesy of ROH
John Cranko was a wonderfully clever choreographer when it came to creating characters. His Onegin, which has just finished a 13 show run at the Royal Opera House, includes many brief moments of characterisation for the corps as well as fabulous main roles ripe for interpretation by principal dancers.
The ballet is based on Pushkin’s novel and at its essence is a tale of two people. The bookish Tatiana falls for Onegin’s sophisticated charms but is rejected, leaving her adolescent heart broken. Later, when Tatiana is a married woman at the pinnacle of St Petersburg society, it is Onegin who begs for her love and she who finally rejects him.
I saw two recent Royal Ballet performances – Alina Cojocaru and Jason Reilly on 19th January, and Marianela Nuñez and Thiago Soares on 1st February – each with very different portrayals of the leading roles. Reilly was a heartless Onegin, playing with the young Tatiana's heart to assert his authority and showing little repentance in the final pas de deux. Cojocaru made a naive Act I Tatiana, struggling to put her feelings onto paper in her love letter and reacting with confusion to Onegin's rejection. But in Act III, we saw a character who had blossomed in a happy marriage. It seemed inevitable Tatiana would reject Onegin, with his coldness and desperate greed to have everything he wanted contrasting her sweet maturity and evident love for her husband.

Nuñez instead made an impulsive Tatiana who had no trouble putting her emotions into words and felt unbridled agony to be rejected. In Act III, she appeared to be in a marriage of security and convenience rather than of the passion she craved. The final pas de deux, with Soares utterly devastated and remourceful for his earlier mistake, gave a more surprising ending. Right until the last moment, it seemed Nuñez might recommence her young love. Her final decision was based not on marital devotion but because she simply couldn't recover from the hurt Onegin had previously caused.