Archive | July, 2011

Roland Petit triple bill / L’Arlésienne + Le Jeune Homme et la Mort + Carmen / English National Ballet – 23 July 2011

29 Jul


Programme

L’Arlésienne (1974)

Vivette – Erina Takahashi / Frédéri – Esteban Berlanga

Le Jeune Homme et la Mort (1946)

The Young Man – Yonah Acosta / Death – Anaïs Chalendard

Carmen (1949)

Carmen – Begoña Cao / Don José – Fabian Reimair

It was a truly enjoyable evening and it provided a very interesting contrast to the Sylvie Guillem extravaganza a couple of weeks ago. And it also became a worthy tribute to Petit himself who only died days earlier.

This was my first live experience of Petit’s work  and I can say I am a convert. His lightness and his interest in theatricality and may I say, camp is truly unique. In comparison to the two British giants that dominate ballet culture in the UK (Ashton and MacMillan) his voice is distinctive and much more joyous.

The triple bill presented by the English National Ballet was an interesting mix of moods but with a strand of doomed men running through the evening.  His language is a mix of classical ballet with touches of mime and jazz improvisation. The resulting amalgam is a very light-hearted but ultimately very satisfying product. The standout feature of his language in both Carmen and L’Arlésienne is an elevated position for the corps. Many choreographers treat the corps as an inconvenience or as just a homogeneous crowd, Petit uses it as an important protagonist that propels the narrative. In contrast Le Jeune Homme is a character study with much more insight and endowed with two great young stars as the main protagonists: Yonah Acosta and Anaïs Chalendard. Acosta brought an exuberant and moody character to life, making even the regular abuse of the chairs on stage seem natural and part of his frustration. Chalendard was an electrifying presence, a very powerful evocation of the character of death with angular limbs and a face full of determination. Petit uses smoking as an element of glamorous presence (like in Carmen), a very Gallic attribute, to animate further the exchange between the two dancers. The campness of the set and costumes, with the big reveal of a panoramic moonlit view of Parisian rooftops was the stuff of cinematic treats by Baz Luhrmann and Pedro Almodóvar. Unexpected, slightly kitsch, surely eye catching. A true coup de theatre!

The evening got started in a much more muted way. L’Arlésienne based on Bizet’s music was an interesting group drama with the couple getting married (Vivette and Frédéri) and ably portrayed by Erina Takahashi and Esteban Berlanga. Takahashi showed natural sweetness and beautiful control. The whole story is mainly relying on the doomed male and unfortunately Berlanga, despite his gorgeous looks didn’t manage to extract all the emotion out of the choreography and seemed to be thinking too much and not letting himself fly. The excellent dancing by the corps created a wonderful backdrop standing out against a big painted Van Gogh inspired cloth. The final dramatic jump out of the window for the hero is another camp touch which brings a much wanted climax to a gentle, on the whole, creation.

Carmen was the concluding part of the evening with an overload on pedestrian ethnographic touches that look dated (a large group of fans used as wall decorations in Carmen’s bedroom?) and some strange vocal participation by the dancers who sang the Habanera like in a French class for the under fives, gave the piece a look of a 1950s quaint seaside postcard. But the most interesting decision by Petit came with the imaginative reuse and rearrangement Bizet’s extremely familiar material. In my view a touch of genius, as a bit of gender reversal (e.g. the Habanera is danced by Don Jose) and fight against expectation is the way to go to avoid an experience on autopilot. The sexyness of the choreography caused a stir in 1949 but today is more of an essay on movement inspired by operatic material and re-shapen to serve a new form. Cao gave us a coquettish Carmen but maybe not with enough fire in her gut. The concluding confrontation outside the bullfighting arena is stripped of its Bizet music but is set to an almost tribal, loud drum beat. Making the action pop and accentuating the animalism of the scene. Just stunning!

This evening would have made a wonderful introduction for anyone to the beauty and expressive possibilities of ballet. A truly entertaining and satisfying evening out that showed ENB in great shape and exploring rarely seen in the UK repertoire.

Amy Amy Amy

25 Jul

The CD

I still have a little giggle when I recall the circumstances I bought Amy Winehouse’s Frank back in October 2003…it was in Tesco’s Morden branch at 12.30 am…bought on a whim as it was in the new releases section priced at £6. Still remember going home and listening to it and being blown away by the voice that was coming out of a shy looking girl next door chanteuse. A voice that seemed mannered but actually came through with a contralto vibrancy that instantly captivated me. I read every single credit trying to figure out the make up of this unknown quantity. It seemed that Island/Universal had spent a lot of dosh on the producers but this girl had co-writing credits for all songs…so not just a young diva with no talent for writing, quite the opposite. It is intriguing that her first single Stronger than Me only made it to number 71 in the top 100 and stayed there for a week and just sank without a trace.  A song strong in both melody, performance and cheeky references.  I kept listening to the cd for the next couple of months and telling everyone that would listen how great it was. So much so that my friend Gary alerted me to the fact that Amy was giving a promotional gig at HMV Oxford Circus on 15 January 2004 to promote her second single Take the Box, which actually made it to number 50 in the charts.

The gig

I really didn’t know what to expect from this gig and when we arrived at HMV we were faced with maybe a crowd of 50-80 people and this lively girl with her glossy black hair and cheeky, awkward grin, that was six years younger than me. She played her bass guitar all way through every single song of her first album. The voice was even better than in the recorded tracks, she had definite star quality and a voice that not just ornamented the music she was singing but actually seemed to inhabit every turn of phrase and lyric quirk. When she sang Stronger than Me she gave a overemphasised cartoonish colour to the words are you gay? , which made it sound adorable.  After playing all the album tracks she asked if we wanted to hear more and at our approving yelps she offered with a beaming smile the remixes for Take the Box.

She and her two musicians managed to bring to life the intricate, Caribbean Technicolor sound-world of Frank and to prove to all of us present she was the real deal. After her set she signed autographs for everyone present and sure she did ornament her patter with naughty comments. When my time arrived I was terribly excited and told her that she was wonderful and if she would mind signing the album for me and the single for my friend Dani, she asked me how to spell the name ‘is it a boy or like Kylie’s slutty sister’ she asked, I just said like Kylie’s sis but with one n. She duly signed and I made a mental note that I would see her in concert very soon. Doing my date checking for this post found some pictures from the gig on the Getty Images, have a look for yourselves at the adorable young lady that sounded like Billie Holiday but was indeed a Jewish North London girl.

Next time I saw her she already had two singles charting at number 57 and 60 and the album had reached number 13 in the UK Top 100. She was playing Shepherd’s Bush Empire! I nabbed two tickets for the standing room in front of the stage upon release. She gave us a fantastic show with strong vocals and a very supportive crowd that hummed along all her songs. It was a perfect evening and we left the venue buzzing and me asking my other half for his impressions and if he thought she was the real deal. Those two gigs are the only way I want to remember Amy Winehouse, a brilliant performer that wrote some touching, intricate autobiographical songs and that I regret not to have around for the next thirty years. She touched me and my generation deeply. Her honest heart on the sleeve music making was a gold standard that very few can live up to. I will treasure my autographed CD cover as a reminder of those two precious memories and an antidote to her chaotic, beehived later years that made her a sad presence in the red tops. She was the real deal that unfortunately stopped being that adorable London girl back in 2007. Hope she has found the peace and solace she needed.

Lucian Freud

22 Jul

The passing of Lucian Freud has given an impetus to a number of critics and writers to put on paper their thoughts on the artist. Reading through them you can get the sense of the man and the scale of his ambition and achievement.  He was a singular voice in British Art and with a particular brand of tunnel vision that made him inimitable. He was after the quirky, messy detail of everyday life, compressed in the messy surroundings of his studio. He was not a painter of grand conceptions and intellectual bathos. His work was a personal response to the world but was very removed from bland retinal reproduction. His paintings and prints are always good depictions of the sitters but they always engage with the internal life of the subjects. Partly due to the strenuous nature of his sitting for the models, most spot the characteristics of studied ennui. Looking deeply involved with their own self after long conversations with Freud, with a definite sense of vulnerability and self-revelation. Anyone that had the chance to face Freud’s icy stare can only imagine what it must have been like to be in the studio with him overnight helping him shape one of his canvases. (A series of photographs by his long-time assistant David Dawson have immortalised a number of sitters in his studio, depicting the dynamics at play).

My enduring memory of Freud was his very Germanic excitement (measured but with a definite glint in the eye) when he was delivering personally a self-portrait back in 2002. He just asked very politely where his exhibition was while his assistant carried the domestic scaled portrait, just out of the studio and two days before the opening of his exhibition. A sense of panic engulfed me as that was not the kind of scenario I was expecting…Lucian Freud to come in with one of his paintings? That was just off the scale! I gathered my thoughts in a split second and managed to mumble the location of the show and offered to walk them there…while stealing a glance at the painting.

When the show opened I was lucky enough to walk around it on my own and managed to have a proper look at the portrait and its thickly encrusted wall in the background. A residue of half a century of career made concrete. Some of the eulogies may seem over the top but Freud was an artistic rebel that did not need the artworld to feel validated. His work was seen as unfashionable and simply odd up to the 1970s, only to turn über cool and almost the polar opposite of the vacuity of the YBAs in the late 1990s. To see a large gathering of his paintings and prints is to see a microcosm of Britain in the last fifty years, describing a life of emotional engagement and fascination with the nature of humanity. He was our equivalent to Otto Dix and Goya, skill and painstaking strife for perfection with a unique, signature insight.

He will be greatly missed.

More photographs of Freud in his studio can be found here: NPG, London

A fascinating short film about his studio can be found here: Newness

Crossover and its futile “mission”

19 Jul

Having had a few intense exchanges on Twitter about the subject of so called classical crossover artists. With a particular focus on Jackie Evancho (an eleven year old performer who found overnight fame via America’s Got Talent).  It got me thinking what the use of that related branch to operatic and classical performance is.

The start of the habit

Arguably the start of classical crossover dates back to the 50s and the success of Mario Lanza, when his fledgling film career was augmented by large scale sales of records containing Neapolitan song and tenor arias.  His signing of a recording contract with the RCA Gold Seal label, which at the time was recording with the Boston Symphony Orchestra, the Boston Pops and in the early 60s would have Leontyne Price as an exclusive artist.  This started the trend for classical labels to sign MOR/ not classically trained artists to their roster in order to appeal to a much wider audience and to be part of the billboard charts.

Contributing to the “noise”

As a new listener to the orchestral/operatic genres a decade ago found that all the crossover artists just added to the general hype and noise that record companies thrive on. For my day to day discovery of new and old music it was adding another layer of complexity as I had to go though the glossy posters and websites and adverts to get to the basics and discover the artists that really meant something to me. As amongst the hype and over promotion we all have to find our own way and to discover artists that speak to us. In those genres it involves a lot of historic recording made 50 or 60 years ago, providing a plush carpet of experience for the immersion into the music to flourish. We all have different ways into discovering it but somehow don’t think crossover is one of those routes.

Promoting mediocrity

There seem to be two distinct branches of the classical crossover world as we know it. The string of performers with actual longstanding professional careers that diversify into crossover is one branch, the Three Tenors being an obvious example. But then the record companies have created a whole new group of people that end up recording classical/operatic repertoire without having the training or resources needed. In that category seems to be the vast majority of acts. The random talent show fare, the photogenic non entities. It is this second branch that is the most offensive. While Pavarotti in his twilight years singing Non ti scordar di me is a bit sad but at least he can just about fulfil the artistic requirements. On the other hand having Katherine Jenkins murdering the Habanera is not ok. Personally, the most objectionable aspect of this promotion of mediocrity is how it jars with the very art it’s supposed to be promoting.  Opera and classical performance is based around the exaggeration and exaltation of the human capacity to perform within a rigid framework and at the highest level . It requires years of study and dedication in a very competitive field. Yet the record companies are promoting people that can’t sing with the right technique, and depend on being amplified to be heard. Part of the magic of live  opera is the amazing capacity of the singers to project into a large house, it is that almost alchemic value that’s entrancing .

The promotion of those singers, that are not the real deal, creates a distortion in the understanding of what that type of performance is truly about. Trying to shoehorn the genre into a pop mould doesn’t make it more accessible, it just robs the art form of it unique characteristics. The people that book to see Katherine Jenkins in Ipswich would be much better off spending their money elsewhere and be exposed to the real thing.

The way forward is live experience

There are so many inexpensive ways to be immersed in the art form e.g. recitals and semi-professional community groups that the very idea that classical crossover artists create a new audience seems all the more feeble. All it takes for this repertoire to have an audience is plain old fashioned curiosity. We are blessed in London with three world class orchestras, two opera houses and a wealth of venues for all tastes and wallets. All of us that find the genre fulfilling we have to take the matter in our hands, drag friends and relatives to those venues, make them experience the real thing live and see what impact it makes. I am immensely proud of parents that bring their children to live performances, something I wish my parents had done 20 years ago. The other day it was wonderful watching a mother and son taking in the magic that was Sylvie Guillem live. As long as there are people that devote their lives to performance at the highest level I believe there will be audiences to appreciate them. Now if someone can rid us off the execrable classical crossover genre our lives would even richer and the record companies would spend their promo money in more worthwhile causes. 

That was an incredible performance! One of those perfect, once in a lifetime perfect. Thank you!* / Cendrillon / Royal Opera House, Covent Garden – 11 July 2011

12 Jul

What a night it was!

Writing my impressions on the fourth performance may seem late to many but ask any opera singer and they will confess that three shows in they feel much more relaxed in the character and the first night nerves are a thing of the past. I want to see a production at its best and not just to be there on opening to do it first, that is frankly the job of so many much more experienced professional reviewers. In this instance it seems that Joyce DiDonato was not in her best singing voice in a couple of performances owing to a cold. So glad to have missed those earlier manifestations of this glorious romp.

Arriving in the auditorium and you’re faced with a row of closed doors, walls papered with Charles Perrault’s book. The set itself (designed by Barbara De Limburg) and its interior world of the book itself is such a clever and expandable device that Laurent Pelly used to a great effect. The whole set is a big concertina construction that opens and closes to create from the intimate bedroom of Lucette (Cendrillon’s real name) to the grand salon of the palace. Extra mobile constructions are adding a balcony, a smoky rooftop and a pile of appropriately red books is the outcrop that the fairy godmother makes her final triumphant appearance on.

Who said that productions can’t be fun and effective without moving the action into a Parisian brothel or any other unrelated location so beloved of a number of European directors? Laurent Pelly directed the action with aplomb and with great comic timing.

The fact he also designed the costumes added another layer of fun (his odd and silly costumes for the various princesses are just hilarious) and they were used to give it a total look that helps the work all the way. For instance Ewa Podleś Madame de la Haltiere was defined by her comic timing but also by the absurd padding and restrictive nature of her costuming. Though he couldn’t resist an early bit of furniture abuse by Cendrillon’s father Pandolfe, which was not necessary.   But it was little thoughtful, intelligent touches that made it so much fun to watch, such as:  the army of look-a-likes, women dressed like Cendrillon (being the helpers of the fairy godmother) and men looking like prince charming in the forest/roof top sequence. Added extra visual interest and quirkiness. The grand palace gates turn into a clock counting down the minutes for Cendrillon’s departure at the end of Act Two…you get the idea!

Our Cendrillon, Joyce DiDonato was in incredible vocal form. She glided through the trickiest passages with smoothness and character. And there was none of the obvious tightness on the radio broadcast from last Saturday. Whatever she did on Sunday, we’re thankful for, as she was amazing. Her first aria was warm and heartfelt and right on the money. And there was an interesting trajectory through her performance. She started at a lowish piano sound and escalated the volume of the voice towards the last two acts. In effect giving extra depth to her interpretation from a young resigned but good-hearted girl to the belle of the ball. Her Third Act aria (Seule, je partirai, mon pere) was incredible with such warmth and humanity, we had no second thoughts Cendrillon was thinking of her mother. Of course the obvious highlights of the night were the duets with Prince Charmant, Coote and DiDonato were a beautiful all round couple, rising the emotional temperature to the maximum.

Alice Coote as the Prince Charmant was exemplary, with powerful projection and impressive male mannerisms convinced straight away as the prince of the tale. She acted the part top to toe and her intensity was an absolute joy. Hope the Royal Opera will entrust her big roles in the future as she was an awesome sight.

Ewa Podleś as Madame de Haltiere was the comedic core of the evening, whatever she did on stage everyone laughed out loud! Her beautiful contralto echoed to the roof of the auditorium. In my mind she was almost channelling Hyacinth Bucket which made her adorably silly. She was one of the main reasons I booked to see it and she surely delivered! Such elegance and flair alongside her crazily dressed daughters. Pure genius!

Jean-Philippe Lafont was again as funny as Podleś  but he was having obvious problems in the upper register of his voice, but given the role, it all added to a very sympathetic portrayal of the character. A great contribution to the overall team work.

Eglise Gutiérrez as the Fairy Godmother was a treat, a sugar-coated treat! She ornamented and relished her trills and staccati. She gave us a rather louche Godmother that lightened up proceedings further and added the frosting on this french fancy of an opera. Surely looking forward to her Amina next season!

The orchestra under the direction of Bertrand De Billy sounded fresh and bouncy. A total equal to the world-class singing on stage.

A lot of opera goers would still associate the title role with Frederica von Stade. She performed it for decades and also made the famous recording of the role in 1979 under Julius Rudel. But judging on the recording it’s time we forgot about her and realised that the Cendrillon of our time is Joyce DiDonato, who sounded not only an equal to Flicka but surely surpassed her last night.

Steal, beg or borrow and get some tickets to see the final two performances or rush to one of the open air venues that host the live telecast this Wednesday. If the weather permits I’ll surely be doing the latter. Possibly the most enjoyable night at Covent Garden for me since 2003. Cross your fingers for a very possible DVD release of the telecast. A total joy, an operatic fairytale, what more can anyone ask for?

*My Tweet after being awestruck by such a brilliant performance by Joyce DiDonato and the rest of the excellent cast.

Details of the outdoor screenings can be found here

Fashionability and utter hollowness / Two Boys / English National Opera – 08 July 2011

10 Jul

Last Friday’s experience at ENO was a reaffirmation to always trust my instinct. Had I listened to it this time I wouldn’t be subjected to the most mind numbing evening I bare to remember. It made the recent Pelleas seem like a walk in the park!

Muhly’s music was a droll long piece of music with little variation, think Debussy but only less interesting.

Having read a number of reviews I was not too alarmed by what I read about the darling of the Upper East Side. The opening cords as the work started where marked by a mock symphonic grandeur that was rather pleasing and then when we starting to encounter the different cardboard thin characters it all disintegrates to a flatulent exchange of banal phrases. Lots of reviewers where clearly been fed the line that Susan Bickley was some latter day operatic version of Helen Mirren’s Prime Suspect character…guess what dear readers that was total tosh. The forced mannerisms of a quasi policewoman, with the accompanying frumpiness do not make a Jane Tennison. Possibly the worst part of Anne Dawson (Bickley’s character) was that she was cursed with some truly atrocious lines that only made some clueless Americans and some middle-Englanders in the auditorium chuckle. Choice lines like: What’s a server? / Bloody Christ!  sank me deeper and deeper in despair. Some obvious clunkers in the plot-line such as Brian’s (the accused teenager) mother that apparently had never met any of his friends.The truly awful church scene and the superfluous  scenes with Dawson’s mother that added nothing of substance, were brushed aside as we were supposed to be witnessing a gesamtkunstwer apparently!

We have all been living with internet access for over 15 years and as such we expect a certain level of sophistication within a work that uses online exchanges as it’s main plot driver. Especially when it’s written by a 29 year old ardent social networker composer. But unfortunately this was anything but, the en masse chorus ensemble pieces were just scripted silly cliches repeated ad nauseum. Supported by feeble music that it had borrowed more from Philip Glass and John Adams than any discernible originality of its own creator. If people came to listen to a curated two hour mixtape, this was the right gig. Most of the woodwinds where straight out of mid career Glass (think Qatsi trilogy and you’re there) while the use of  drums and assorted bells created a soundworld that Adams would feel straight at home with. You may think I am being terribly harsh on Muhly on this count, but unfortunately the score had very few points where it lifted off the mundane droll that it too clearly was pleased to occupy. At the end of the first act I wondered that this feeling of acute boredom would be whisked away in the second half…but that wasn’t to be. The paper thin story really did not provide enough interest through another 45 mins of the same post-minimalist muzak.

Another much lauded feature of the production were the video projections by 59 Productions. Apparently they added freshness and vitality and they were clearly the needed accessory for our fashionable composer’s grand manifestation of his art. As I Tweeted from the Coliseum, your copy of iTunes can do a better job with its visualiser. The projections were too obvious (schematic diagrams creating a starry sky like internet representation / floating photographs straight out of OSx) and actually I wouldn’t be surprised if the choral pieces backdrops were inspired while they were using the backup utility on their Macs (Time Machine, have a look here). Sylvie Guillem single handedly had a much better use of video for a humble dance show than this much lauded, ENO impoverishing multinational production. The only positive use of the projections where when the Inspector played back the CCTV tape, that had a much better relationship with the actions on stage and not the awkward filler that it was for pretty much the rest of the performance.

The overall direction by Bartlett Sher was subdued and actually not bad…it just had the feel of a furniture warehouse with the incessant moving and dragging of tables, chairs, armoires and assorted pine bedroom sets. I wish they had just used a revolving stage or some stage lifts to move the different sets around. Also maybe the cartoonish whisky swigging by Bickley was another one for the not a good idea list.

There were some positive aspects to this unqualified shit storm that the English National Opera served us.

• The duet between between Brian and Rebecca in Act I was fervent and very well sang, a rare lift for the deeply mundane score

• The character of Jake was beautifully sang by Jonathan McGovern and really wished he had more material to sing.

•The final choral piece was indeed beautifully written and well conceived despite the fact we had to endure two hours of really average saggy narration to get to that point.

All of the above may sound like an all out attack on Nico Muhly and his music, but that is not true. I do think he has huge potential and the blame would possibly more lie on his backers and the Metropolitan Opera commissioning him such a major piece. They threw him in the lion’s mouth just in the name of some skewed idea that they were rejuvenating the genre or that they were bringing in new audiences. The fact that he’s only 29 years old is clearly a big marketing advantage and his fashionable status was  used to death. But any opera house lives and dies on the box office returns and judging from reports, frequent looks at the ENO website and also my experience on Friday, the auditorium was half empty.

It’s all nice and well to promote a fancy new piece by a young composer with a cringe-worthy “viral” campaign but it has to backed by true substance and a killer (terrible pun) subject. Two boys failed on both counts, adding references to blow jobs, online grooming and pornography does not add any edge to an already caricatured world where the main protagonist is clothed in a hoodie, the secret police looks like cast offs from a rap video casting call and even the token spy is wearing a wearisome camel burbery raincoat. It was the first time in about 5 years that I withheld my applause and I am truly happy to have spent only £20 on a front row Dress Circle ticket. If it ever makes it on the Met stage I’d hope it will have a serious revision to improve the material, if a revision was not beneath Verdi, than Muhly should follow suit.

Teased and roaring to go to the ball

10 Jul

Listening to the live broadcast from the Royal Opera House last night was a total treat…especially when I’ll be there tomorrow evening. Surely a great antithesis to the dull and simply nonsensical Two Boys on Friday night (more on that soon!). The duets between Alice Coote and Joyce Didonato (who sang superbly despite a cold) were effervescent and simply beguiling.  Ewa Podleś was hilarious over the radio I can only imagine how funny she will be on stage.

Roll on Monday night.

Listen again:

Till July 16th you can listen on BBC’s iPlayer and judge for yourselves!

Sylvie Guillem / 6.000 miles away / Sadler’s Wells – 06 July 2011

8 Jul

Every time I have to write about Sylvie Guillem I find it extremely difficult, how does one put in words the outcome of an evening with such a wonderful and sensory overload. How can I do justice to a true wonder of our times.

To experience Guillem live is to be part of something very special, a true fusion of art, spirituality and curiosity. My first ever live exposure to her art was at the Nureyev gala at The Royal Opera House back in 2003. She danced the pas des deux In the Middle Somewhat Elevated which was specially created for her while she was an etoile at the Paris Opera Ballet by William Forsythe. Last night it was almost a rekindling of those feelings and admiration that she generated almost a decade ago.

The programme was as follows:

The evening’s start, the new piece by Forsythe, Rearray was an interesting confection. The stage was set up in what it looked like a well-worn dance studio in shades of dark grey with a bar attached to the wall. Guillem and Le Riche did not use that back wall in any way, it seemed that Forsythe chose to carve the relationship of the two characters with the use of dramatic, lighting that subdivided the action and fragmented the narrative. The dim lighting which was the main phase of the scheme was highlighting the fast movement of the choreography and especially Guillem’s velvet smooth arm and hand gestures created shapes not unlike light pen drawings that Picasso made all the rage back in the 1940s. Almost 3d calligraphy and an exploration of the bodies of the two dancers intertwining and at times mirroring each other’s aerial shape making. The piece did not have too many lifts or too much body contact. The two dancers retold abstract episodes with the lights dimming and going off creating a buffer from one episode to another.

The general mood of the piece was warm mainly generated by the clear familiarity of the two dancers, they both go back to their Paris Opera days being both hand-picked by Nureyev and showing a very particular brand of elegant step marking and physicality. Forsythe used very effectively Le Riche’s imposing physique and his equally powerful delivery is a perfect foil for Sylvie’s fluid delivery, almost a tree against an overflowing river. He accentuated the very sensitivity of Guillem’s dancing that is one of its more distinctive features. Against a less masculine partner she could have easily dominated with her gymnast proportions. She has mentioned in recent interviews that she asked Forsythe to not scale back his requirements but to try and stretch her capabilities. Surely most of the pacing is exhausting and makes her command the stage in her very unique way. Forsythe knows her well and Rearray lives in the mind, a day later it has grown more and more. One sour aspect for me was the music accompaniment (by David Morrow) a particular brand of post modern cacophony that contemporary choreographers seem to be perennially in love with. It wasn’t terribly inspired and I usually find a clash between a found piece of music with a new dance work is a great combination.

The second piece by Jiří Kylián (27’52”) was a much more hands on affair between the two dancers. With some extraordinary scenes of tense exchange between the two protagonists. With long lengths of grey rubber, pliable flooring material covering the dancers from time to time creating a separating layer was an interesting addition. The piece had an undercurrent of trauma and violence a true contrast to what came before. Aurelie Cayla removed her red flowing top after a terse exchange and lied immobile on the floor for the next few minutes allowing Kojiri to dance a triumphant solo. A disquieting middle point in the choreography where her exposed torso becomes a lifeless prop for relentless shaking and bending. It was arresting with its ferocious rhythms and Mahlerian musical themes weaving a spunky full-on narrative. Really appreciated at that point the brief interval to catch some fresh air and wonder what Mats Ek would do with one of his top muses!

Bye was a thirty minute solo for Guillem starting behind a projection screen (with a whimsical extreme close-up) she climbs up it trying to make it through to the stage. Almost a flashback from some extraordinary visual effects they employed for her last Sadler’s Wells outing two years ago with Eonnagata. This time round it was employed in a much more humorous way. She relished appearing in surely the most frumpy stage outfit any dancer would ever wear. A mustard coloured skirt with a purple patterned shirt, a green cardigan and a pair of pink pop socks (that she quickly removes alongside her shoes and dances barefoot). She seemed to be portraying a homely figure on stage with a rather cooky sense of joie de vivre…she made all too clear with three headstands where she created a Y shape and held with sheer excitement.

The piece had Sylvie’s signature high kicks and mesmerizing fluidity. The projections on the door-like opening continue throughout the work with some live video of her stretched on the floor, almost in a simulation of a full body photocopying process. Her in sync and out of sync movements on the screen both mirrored the action and frozen the narrative into a purely aesthetic product. When things turned “too pretty” a man appears on-screen that is clearly looking for her and followed by a sweet docile family dog (which caused a lot of laughter in the auditorium) which was followed by a huge family looking at her dancing. The humour and Guillem’s magnetic presence was clearly the core of the piece. Almost a glimpse of a more domestic Sylvie that lifts her everyday life with humorous posing and a few playful headstands? It was endearing and heartfelt, the kind of piece that hits one’s heart straight on. She was dancing to the Arietta from Beethoven’s last piano sonata Op.111 as played by Ivo Pogorelich. As a certain (wonderful) pianist said to me it was a very dull piece and he’s milking its dullness but this was exactly the right piece for the occasion. She elevated the pretty straight-laced music into an extraordinary conversation. The movement both following the sound but also adding meaning and tenderness.

All in all it was moving, it was intelligent, it was skilful. A great evening out with arguably the greatest ballerina of our times.

PS it was a rather funny audience on the night a mix of ex dancers, assorted musicians (including Stephen Hough on front row) a mother with her 10-year-old son and a biker in full leather gear that brought his helmet in the auditorium! Not the kind of audience one would see at the Coliseum or the Royal Opera House which got me thinking about how different dance audiences are to opera ones! One interesting extra thing was how the performance started, with the lights still on the curtain opened and Le Riche and Guillem stood immobile in the darkened stage quietly silencing the loud chatting audience an effective and engaging start to a memorable evening. I will be seeing it again in September, will make sure to add any more observations to this piece if need be.

2012 Update

Sylvie Guillem was awarded the Outstanding Female Performance (Modern) prize for 6.000 Miles Away at the The 12th (The Critics’ Circle) National Dance Awards in London on 23 January 2012. 

2013 Update

With the upcoming return of Guillem to Sadler’s Wells the Guardian has put online some filmed excerpts from 6.000 miles away.

Hours on the misery end of this opera loving individual’s life

5 Jul

This morning is again the opening of another booking period for the Autumn/Winter performances at The Royal Opera House, Covent Garden. And once more the customary messy virtual queueing is the order of the day. I really can’t imagine any other box office transaction that is more frustrating, than being #2051 in a virtual queue. Can I recall a commercial transaction where I’m waiting for two hours in order to give another party £400? Most people would be puzzled by this and we should all take exception at the awful service the ROH box office is offering. For such an important venue we all have to expect the very best in casts, directors, conductors…and dare I say customer experience. Making people red in the face just to get four tickets is counter-productive and plain stupid. Apparently they hired extra developers for their site, but unfortunately any improvements made where not obvious once more. As the homepage was inaccessible for hours and then the dreaded holding pen for opera and ballet fans takes hold. Can I suggest maybe to have an open chat room where all the miserable souls queueing can at least have a chat about the upcoming season? Currently #1504 in the queue and counting…

In the End  

I managed to offload a serious amount of money to the ROH’s coffers…with the help of two colleagues that were monitoring my pc while I had to be away. At least I do have fabulous seats for both Il Trittico and La Sonnambula. Hopefully by late September I will have forgotten the anguish and pointless waiting about! The chance to see Eva-Maria Westbroek is not something to pass by.

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