Monday, 30 June 2014

June Round-up

Steven McRae in The Dream
Photo: Johan Persson / ROH
This month I have written blogs on Ushers: the front of house musical, Draft Works, Ballet Ireland's Carmen, Notre-Dame de Paris DVDDada Masilo's Swan Lake, Sidi Larbi Cherkaoui's 4D, Ballet Why and How book and the ROH Dream bill.

Other writing:
A review of English National Ballet's Romeo and Juliet on Londonist
And, of course, Dance UK's June e-news including a feature on Argentine tango

Tuesday, 24 June 2014


4D (Matter/ Pure/ Sin/ Faun), Eastman, Sadler's Wells - reviewed on 23rd June

Four reworked duets by Sidi Larbi Cherkaoui made for an extremely enjoyable and diverse evening as part of Sadler's Sampled.
In Matter, Kazutomi Kozuki became all manner of props for his partner (Guro Nagelhus Schia) - from moulding his hands to the shape of high heels and moving with her feet as she walked, to being an apple to eat and a shower hose. As the couple went to bed, my interpretation was that Kozuki represented Nagelhus Schia's everything, so much so that he became a part of all that she did. (Though equally it could have been a meditation on solitude and finding comfort in inanimate objects rather than human contact.)
This was followed by a film of a Japanese marketplace, which was utterly mesmeric in its power. As Kozuki walked along and seemed to interact with the footage (for example waving at people to the left as the camera turned left), I felt transported to the foreign place and its sea of faces and activities. It was an experience that I didn't understand logically, but felt very strongly emotionally.
The second work, Pure, commenced with a fascinating fluidly-moving duet full of interesting lifts and holds. Then left alone, the female dancer (Nagelhus Schia again) seemed in so much pain that it was difficult for her to express. Picking up a pen and dipping it in ink, she was unable to write her frustrations anywhere except on her body, with brutal strokes creating a blotchy black mess on both costume and skin.
Returning to the scene, her partner (Vebjørn Sundby) attempted to wipe away the marks with a cloth. His reassuring movements both countered and comforted Nagelhus Schia but eventually he too became covered in black ink and dragged into despair.
I felt less connected to the two works after the interval - Faun, a woodland-set tribute to Sergei Diaghilev, and Sin, an aggressive battle duet with resulting remorse - though both had interesting moments. The evening also included the screening of Valtari, a music video with relatively mediocre choreography by Cherkaoui, and a superb onstage band who played gorgeous music to accompany much of the live dancing.
All in all, 4D was a performance combining emotionally powerful and engaging movement, brilliant dancers and excellent music, and one I'm very glad not to have missed.
Here is the show's trailer, which does better justice to the beauty of Cherkaoui's choreography:

Sunday, 22 June 2014

Ballet Why and How Book

Ballet Why and How (book) - reviewed on 22nd June
Although its old fashioned and faded design makes it look like something from the 1970s, Ballet Why and How was printed earlier this year. Considering the role of classical technique in today's dance training, it explores ways to get the best from ballet education (how) as well as whether it should be included at all (why).
There are some interesting discussions on both topics though the latter interests me most. Anna Aalten points out that ballet is neither the 'neutral' nor complete training that it is typically perceived to be. Its technical fundamentals – turnout, stylisation and verticality – are problematic in preparing dancers for more contemporary choreography (and that elusive versatility so often cited by directors as important). Ballet also doesn't offer aerobic training, meaning supplementary cardio-vascular activities are required.
On the other hand, the very pro-ballet Larry Rhodes suggests it is the "most sophisticated of all dance forms". More sensibly, Miriam Sögner describes ballet in dance training as a "possible option – but just one of many". Niklas Fransson points out that in spite of its limitations, ballet will continue to be used in most dance courses because it is "easily accessible and well-tried".
Other topics in the book include the authoritarian roots of ballet pedagogy, applying dance science knowledge to training and preventing burn out in dance teachers. Some sections are more relevant than others and there are enormous variations in both length and accessibility across chapters.
However, what this book lacks most (apart from a more dynamic design) is an overall conclusion. Considering the diversity of topics and writers in the book, a final chapter pulling ideas together would have been most welcome.
As it is, my own conclusion is that ballet does have a relevance in today's dance training. It is invaluable for classical dancers and may also, if taught effectively, be useful to students of other dance styles. What needs to change, however, is the assumption that it is invaluable for all. As Aalten points out, it is neither a neutral nor complete training and ought not to be at the centre of dance study programmes without some detailed thought.

Friday, 20 June 2014

Dada Masilo's Swan Lake

Photo: John Hogg
Swan Lake, Sadler's Wells - reviewed on 18th June
"Ballet but not as you know it" is the description on the leaflets for Dada Masilo's Swan Lake, and that describes it pretty accurately. There's an irreverent whizz through the ballet's story, with mocking 'seaweed arms' and the 'he doesn't love me' floor pose, plus a gay hero and even a male Dying Swan (on pointe).
Masilo combines her African dance background with more classical steps in the choreography, and whilst the effect feels rough around the edges, it's frequently very funny and very effective. I'm not ready to give up the classical Swan Lake just yet, but this offers a tempting alternative if I did.

Saturday, 14 June 2014

Notre-Dame de Paris DVD

Natalia Osipova and Roberto Bolle in Notre-Dame de Paris
Notre-Dame de Paris (DVD), Ballet Company of Teatro alla Scala - reviewed on 14th June
Natalia Osipova and Roberto Bolle star in the new Teatro alla Scala DVD of Notre-Dame de Paris. Choreographed by Roland Petit in 1965, it tells the story of gypsy girl Esmeralda and her fate as the object of affection of three men, including Notre-Dame’s hunchbacked bell-ringer, Quasimodo. In typical ballet tragic-ending style, Esmeralda is hanged for a crime she did not commit and Quasimodo holds her limp body as the curtain closes.
The ballet has some pleasing moments but lacks punch on the whole. The leading couple also has little chance to sparkle, though whether this is because the performance is recorded (and not live) is hard to tell.

Sunday, 8 June 2014

Dream Triple Bill

The Dream/ Connectome / The Concert, Royal Ballet, Royal Opera House - reviewed on 5th June
Natalia Osipova and Edward Watson in Connectome
Photo: Bill Cooper / ROH
Whilst the inspiration (maps showing brain connections) for Alistair Marriott's Connectome isn’t clear, its choreography is exciting. Performed excellently by Steven McRae, Natalia Osipova and Edward Watson, the moment when McRae’s body appears to be swallowed by four other dancers stands out in particular.
The Dream is also expertly danced by McRae alongside Roberta Marquez, with both displaying impressive acting skills and a good understanding of Frederick Ashton's movement style. Jerome Robbins’ The Concert – a parody of both performers and theatre-goers – completes the bill. Its ballet waltz is laugh-out-loud funny as is Sarah Lamb’s character.

Saturday, 7 June 2014

Ballet Ireland's Carmen

Carmen, Ballet Ireland, Lilian Baylis Studio Theatre - reviewed on 4th June
Zoe Ashe-Browne as Carmen
Carmen has inspired many choreographers, including Roland Petit and Mats Ek. I’m a big fan of the latter's version (especially with Tamara Rojo in the title role), and Ballet Ireland's 2013 Carmen didn't have quite the same punch.
Choreographed by Morgann Runacre-Temple, it uses Rodion Shchedrin’s recorded score, but chopped up and interspersed with live music and even an opera song. The set – a large minimalist wooden box which rotates and unfolds – is effective, and Zoe Ashe-Browne excels in the lead role.
Most memorable was when the cast danced and clapped along to the onstage guitar-playing, and I wish there had been more of that.

Thursday, 5 June 2014

Draft Works 2014

Draft Works, Royal Ballet, Linbury Studio Theatre @ ROH - reviewed on 2nd June

Seven company dancers and two external choreographers created pieces for the Royal Ballet's 2014 Draft Works.
Tara-Brigitte Bhavani and Romany Pajdak
in Ludovic Ondiviela's untitled work
Photo: Tristram Kenton / ROH
The highlight was Ludovic Ondiviela's untitled duet representing the battle between two opposing sides of one woman's personality. As the confident and dominant persona, Tara-Brigitte Bhavnani strutted and posed; her counterpart, Romany Pajdak, cowered and folded her limbs inwards. Holding a length of ribbon attached to both dancers' wrists, Bhavnani then paraded around Pajdak, until the latter was left bound and helpless on the floor as the lights went down.

My enjoyment came partially from the resonance I felt with the vulnerable persona on display. But Ondiviela's choreography was also thematically intelligent and engaging, as well as visually exciting.

Another interesting work was from Kristen McNally, the evening's only female choreographer. In her typically quirky style, Matriarch featured two overtly sexual women seducing a pizza delivery boy while smoking cigarettes. McNally wasn't happy with her creation and bravely expressed this to the audience in her introduction: "I hope you will see a beauty in seeing the work at this early stage."
Francesca Hayward, Teo Dubreil, Luca Acri and Reece Clark
in Kenta Kura's DW2. Photo: Tristram Kenton / ROH
Also pleasing were Kenta Kura's DW2, a vibrant classical quartet for Francesca Hayward and three male dancers, and Marcelino Sambé's surrealist and frantic trio, Preparations for the Last TV Fake. Nicol Edmonds gave a stunning performance of Joshua Beamish's L'inverno. Though the piece wasn't particularly interesting choreographically, Edmonds' flowing movements impressed.
Draft Works is always a great opportunity to see young choreographers' work, but it also gives the chance to see Royal Ballet dancers up close, including corps de ballet members who rarely get to take centre stage. My main criticism this year was that the audience were placed on two sides of the stage but half of the works had been prepared facing one side only. From behind, much of the choreography lost impact but there were still plenty of works on display that showed real creative skill.

Sunday, 1 June 2014


Ushers: the Front of House musical, Charing Cross Theatre - reviewed on 31st May
Ushers takes an irreverent look into the world of front of house theatre staff. The effect, complete with numerous jokes about Les Miserables, audience members and ticket prices, is both clever and laugh-out-loud funny. Delving into the lives of six leading characters (all out of work performers), there is romance, frustration, programme sales, gay kisses and even a vengeful manager.
Yiannis Koutsakos’s music is well-written with some catchy songs which are performed brilliantly by the cast. My only complaint is the rushed and over-simplistic ending to the plot. This aside, Ushers is a fun and engaging musical that is well worth watching.