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Future + Present + Past / Ecstasy and Death / English National Ballet – 20 April 2013

23 Apr

ENB EcstasyThis was the first programme fully put together by the new Director of the English National Ballet, Tamara Rojo. It read like a ballsy statement of intent and it overall read as a fresh, exciting start for the company.

Since January and after a radical re-branding  complete with new logo, new promotional campaign and some combative interviews, Rojo made it clear that the astonishment of her announcement in April 2012 that she was quitting the Royal Ballet and joining the ENB as a Director was sustained. The company had a dancing ballerina as its boss back in its founding years with Alicia Markova and judging on this outing Rojo seems to have been a huge source of inspiration for the company.

Petit Mort

Is a stylish vintage piece by Jiří Kylián, new to the company. Opening with the male dancers handling their swords in both playful floor sequences and in more combative use with the other soloists. The costuming for both male and female dancers were sharply tailored skin coloured bodices and shorts. The sleekness and simplicity allowing for full concentration on the intricately physical choreography with a clear focus on body contact and exertion of torsion. Set to two excerpts of Mozart piano concertos the work acquired a taste of serene classicism that almost turned into a baroque interlude when the female dancers skated across the stage in formation in large black 18th century gowns. In one snap movement they broke that initial impression by escaping the stiff dresses and wriggling their way out like a chrysalis from the cocoon. It surely caused a few knowing laughs in the audience. The female dancers deployed a large swathe of fabric that covered most of the stage and created a certain separation between individual sections. The most interesting part of it was the sexually combative relationship between the couples, clearly capitalising on the post coital state referenced in the title of the work. It was sleek, beautifully lit and the dancing was a jolt of vitality much needed to get the afternoon started. Special mention also for the sensitive and alert piano playing by Chris Swithinbank.

Le Jeune et la mort

In this first revival since the production in 2011 as part of a Roland Petit triple bill, which I absolutely loved. This second staging of it and in such diverse company the true classic nature of the work was even clearer. The elegance and depth were highlighted by the electric partnership of Tamara Rojo and Nicolas Le Riche who acted their way the grand guignol scenario laid out by Jean Cocteau. Her fetishistic, morbid, sadistic persona was the perfect foil for Le Riche’s louche and spectacularly acrobatic performance. He may not be as young as ideally one would like but his way of interpreting the choreography feels deeply personal. No jumps or contortions seemed laboured, all informed the core of the work and illuminated this 1946 classic.  The fraught relationship brought into relief with Rojo’s solid presence emphasised the macabre heart of the work to the fore. While Acosta and Chalendard brought a more edgy more obviously confrontational couple to life, this time it was more complex and more assured.  The potent mix of sexuality, smoking and desire was as potent as it was believable. It goes to show that when the director dances, and attracts such starry company, incredible things happen.

Etudes

It is a slightly love and hate piece by Harald Lander  as it scales up a ballet class to an intricate feast of fouettes by the principal male and female dancers. It is a great work to impress guests at a gala and the fact this was the 750th performance is a clear indication how popular it has been in the intervening 50 years. It was performed with joyful abandon  if not exactly classical perfection. Unfortunately it is the kind of show off confection that I very rarely find engaging, but as a way to boost morale and bring most of the company together has a very useful function to serve.
It’s traditional form was in contrast to the other two works but made a great addition into telling the story of where the company started from, an outfit directly descended from the Ballets Russes. Setting the path where Rojo wants to take the company, based on its classical 19th century foundations with the bohemian European air of Petit to the more surface polished world of Kylián.

I brought two ballet newcomers with me to the performance and they were impressed by the variety of dance on offer and also wanted to know much more about Rojo. It seems the gamble she took in becoming director is starting to pay off. I am very excited to see the future developments and of course their upcoming brand new Le Corsaire. Rojo is aiming high and seems to be geared up to hit the bull’s head.

ENB Ecstasy list

Curtain call

Production shots by the ENB

And a few Tweets

After the next best thing / Apollo + 24 Preludes + Aeternum / Royal Opera House – 7 March 2013

11 Mar

RB Mixed BillReading the reviews I was expecting a mixed blessing of an evening and I have to say the combination of classic early Balanchine a new Ratmansky and a new Wheeldon was surprising.

This revival of Apollo was not as impressive as the one by the English National Ballet a couple of years ago. This early gem needs an assurance of line and angularity that this time was missing. Federico Bonelli is an old hand in this work and surely brought personality to the role but he was lost in a tentative ensemble that lacked that unmistakable spark of magic and sense of otherness.

The first Royal Ballet collaboration between the much loved Alexei Ratmansky was an equally problematic piece. Using a rather naff orchestration of Chopin’s 24 preludes for piano by Jean Francaix was a very odd choice. George Balanchine collaborated with Igor Stravinsky in 1928 for a decidedly neoclassical take on Modernism and yet a star choreographer of our day depends on third rate, largely bland, material to build upon. The fact that the surprising turns and twists of the 40 minute ballet are anything but boring is down to his skill.

The piece seems like a conscious introduction and acknowledgement of the history of the company, in one direction he looks back at Frederic Ashton’s A month in the Country with it’s slightly bucolic touches and softness of line for the female soloists and a much more angular writing for the men, a reflection on MacMillan perhaps? The very distinct style for each gender created a dynamic and he built upon it characters for each dancer. Alina Cojocaru took the more demonstrative, happier incidents, playing to her bright stage persona. Zenaida Yanowsky was the woman hurt by men and expressing grief in the only way she can, with large open gestures and her conspicuous stage presence. Rupert Pennefather was the stand out from the boys with a very edgy and stylish performance of Ratmansky’s ambivalent tension between the athletic plasticity and the angularity of the male body. When Yanowsky and long term dancing partner Pennefather came together it was the point when the choreography exploded, showing its true potential.

Ratmansky’s  main differentiating factor was the whimsy and the characterful language, combining intense body contact with very light footwork. I would not put down this new work as a future classic but as a decisive attempt by Kevin O’Hare, the new Director of Ballet, to stamp a new personality after taking over from Monica Mason. This was surely driven by the history of the Royal Ballet and I am excited to see what he can offer in a longer form and with much better music.

Christopher Wheeldon’s Aeternum, built upon Britten’s Sinfonia da Requiem was a well staged crowd pleaser, brimming with energy but again his idiom depending on the contrast of a group and a soloist is getting a bit predictable. A beautiful set, largely looking like a driftwood version of the controversial Maggi Hambling shell sculpture in Aldeburgh, was ornamenting the lack of content. Surely Britten’s (surprisingly danceable) score should have encouraged a clear narrative, but it did not come through. The dynamic between a tremendously vibrant Marianela Nuñez was no substitute for true storytelling. At least the return of Federico Bonelli for an intimate pas des deux in the finale, was a welcome idea. The overall language seemed a contemporary take on Balanchine’s idiom but for my taste and despite all the vibrancy of the dancing the result was a weak idea given a very conventional shape, lacking much innovation or point of difference. Hooking on to the Britten centenary to built a new one act work maybe was the hindrance that did not arouse creativity? I am sure a lot of people enjoyed the spectacle but what was he trying to bring out of Britten’s monumental score is the question that remained unanswered. At least the beautiful, robust playing by the orchestra was a balm to our ears, with some exquisite cello passages.

The main joy of the evening was seeing long term favourites like Yanowski, Lamb and Cojocaru lit up the stage in their usual way.

The curtain calls

RB Mixed Bill list

Final Royal Ballet curtain call for Tamara Rojo – 21 February 2013

22 Feb
Tamara Rojo with Carlos Acosta and Sergei Polunin
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After a moving Marguerite and Armand we were treated to prolonged diva worship of la Rojo. The performance itself was such an evocation of the original to make it truly unforgettable. Tamara and Sergei channelled Margot and Rudolf to an intoxicating degree.

Mr Fate and his amazing thunder coat / Miss Fortune / Royal Opera House, Covent Garden – 28 March 2012

31 Mar

You have by now read the numerous reviews and unsurprisingly 99% of critics and bloggers had been to put it politely, underwhelmed by what was on offer by Miss Fortune.

I had no intention of seeing it after being burned last year by Nico Muhly’s Two Boys and especially after reading the wall to wall bad reviews. But getting an Orchestra Stalls ticket for £15 was an opportunity I couldn’t pass by.

The overwhelming feeling is of a work that did not come together, an inherent disparity between, word, music, movement, direction and stage design. As if Judith Weir was trying to tick too many boxes and failed to make them work as a whole.The camp utterances of a counter-tenor portraying Fate (dressed in the equivalent of a house coat covered in a thunderbolt print) varied from the annoying to the surplus to requirement. If she was really attempting humour or satire it clearly did not come through.

The staging was a faceless mush of an aerofoil trapezoid shape that was moving to different positions for scene changes (being projected on to add texture), another (red slatted this time) hinged  trapezoid  containing LED lighting within. The most extravagant prop, the exploding kebab van for Hassan was a pure folly that got used for around 10 minutes of stage time, only to be fire-bombed in the end…it’s typical of the flat nature of the work that I was more fascinated, by how the van was lowered down from the fly tower and the cables disengaged from it after landing, than Hassan’s singing about his love for the van and leaving Miss Fortune behind while he went supply shopping.  This was supposed to be set in the 21st century and when I explained the plot to a colleague, she exclaimed how old-fashioned was the choice of Miss Fortune being surrounded by machinists in a textile factory. How about a more contemporary occupation in the service section, a fast food restaurant or something a bit more recognisable for the audience? Those kind of simplistic misfires are indicative of the unfortunate (what a pun, hey?) dramatically inert staging that added very little contemporary flavour than a regie director could muster with *cough* Rusalka. Maybe Weir and Shi-Zheng should have hooked up with Mary Portas’ Kinky Knickers and add a bit more pizzaz!

An inexplicable choice was why did Miss Fortune herself sing all the way from a forte to a near fortissimo throughout the piece. Emma Bell was just made to scream her way through the part with very little chance for articulation and allowance for feeling to penetrate the strident melodic line. The dance troupe (Soul Mavericks) were entertaining through out…but at the same time nothing like a touch of racial stereotyping by appointing black dancers as the source of menace to the urban environment that Miss Fortune was thrown into. Their performance was dedicated but somehow can’t see where in the grand scheme of things they were supposed to belong. The feeling that this was a very late addition came to mind at their every appearance.

This opera unfortunately was a total, if inoffensive, snooze to watch all the way through. If it wasn’t for the beautifully crisp playing by the orchestra (which actually sounded like a different orchestra since the recent dull performance of Don Giovanni). A huge thank you to all the orchestral players and the beaming Jacques Imbrailo who lit up the auditorium with his beautiful bright voice, much more than the preceding exploding kebab van.

I really can not understand how this lukewarm, pretty flat piece made it to the main stage of the Royal Opera House, it would have benefited by a new staging, some work on the libretto and the more intimate surroundings of the Linbury Studio (or the unthinkable…an industrial space in East London) with its smaller scale it would have been a better receptacle for Weir’s fluent and frequently beautiful score. Good luck to St Louis and their new staging of the work in 2013.

Below is a video of some of the stage action by the video designers, it will give you a taste for the look and movement of the staging and one of Kasper Holten introducing it to the unsuspecting punters.

Read more

Jessica Duchen’s post on Miss Fortune

Mark Berry’s blog post on Miss Fortune

John Allison’s review published by The Telegraph

Fiona Maddocks’ review for The Observer

English National Ballet dress rehearsal

3 Mar

It was wonderful watching about 30 mins of the dress rehearsal of the English National Ballet on Friday 2 March. Thought I’d share a few minutes of their rehearsal of the world premiere piece The Death of Carlos and Ramon by Stina Quagebeur. Danced by Nathan Young, Max Westwell and Tamarin Stott. Set to Stravinsky’s Psalm 39. It was performed for the first time on Friday evening as part of the ENB’s residency at Tate Britain. All three newly commissioned works (inspired by Picasso’s paintings) will be also performed at their upcoming Beyond Ballet Russes season at the London Coliseum.

PS If you buy a top price ticket (£67) for any of the shows, use the code Picasso to get a second ticket free of charge.

Murderous passions and Muybridge / Twice Through the Heart + Undance / Sadler’s Wells – 3 December 2011

5 Dec

A night of passion, conflict and energetic dance. That would possibly be the simplest way to sum up the advertised ‘evening in two parts’. Once more I am grateful that Sadler’s Wells continues to support new productions that are experimental and bring together collaborators of that high quality.  Turnage’s Twice Through the Heart is (in complete reversal to its premiere by English National Opera) used to extend the evening due to Undance being too short to be the only work of the evening. And we have to be grateful, as having the chance to listen to Sarah Connolly is always a treat.

TTH is a wonderful scena, cum operatic monologue. The libretto is made of Jackie Kay’s poetry, based on her script for a 1993 TV programme having as its subject Amelia Rossiter, a pensioner who murdered her abusive husband and was finally released on appeal. Kay’s poetry creates the confines for Turnage to paint the scene with an expressionist flair. In at times chilling contributions from the percussion, jazz quotations and Alban Bergesque angular strings creating tension. The vocal writing is very much in the same mode as the darker moments of this year’s Anna Nicole, that I enjoyed very much.  Turnage is managing to create a complete soundworld with only sixteen musicians (in this case including his wife  and brilliant cellist, Gabriella Swallow, who also fixed the band of players for these performances). Sarah Connolly did delve into the core of the character in her bluish/purple patterned blouse and camel skirt, unfolding the story of a suffocating paternalistic society and how the suffering of domestic abuse can drive one to the extremes. Unfortunately she had to sing behind a semi transparent screen in order to allow for the 3D projections to be shown on by (the very new media titled) OpenEndedGroup who created drawings with a chalky texture. Sometimes they occupied the opposite end of the stage as Connolly and others they would take over the whole stage. I’m feeling torn about them as I’m finding Connolly highly watchable in this piece without the need for the projection, her table and chair would have been fine for me. But this is a dance venue and most people I’d imagine came for the second half, so adding an extra visual element was a good commercial decision. When the drawings were very scratchy and shifting in perspective mirroring the thickening texture of the music, it worked well. But this was from my standpoint, coloured by the excellent performance by the orchestra and Connolly, who sang with deep conviction, marvellous diction and crystal clear projection. No wonder she has been much in demand (as the programme puts it too). The incisive cooler voice she found for the character was a perfect match to the material. The drama culminated with her undressing down to her negligee and singing China Cup, the last part while she tumbles and writhes on the floor and makes her way to the table and chair to sing her last phrases ‘Locked in, locked in’.  A truly riveting half an hour. Kay’s poetry and its shifting metaphors and focus on female experience, Turnage’s colourful music, beautifully played sang by one of the undeniable star mezzos of our era. Shame how she only got a pretty short burst of applause…had this been the ENO we would be clapping for another ten minutes.

After a much needed ice cream and spotting both Connolly and Turnage at the foyer the time came for the main event of the night, Undance, the collaboration of Turnage/Wallinger/McGregor. Against most usual ways of putting a new dance piece together and against most traditional involvement of a visual artist with a choreographer, here Wallinger essentially put the parameters on the table that both the composer and the choreographer had to take as the basis for development. Mark Wallinger is a fascinating, varied and truly profound contemporary artist. His obsessions have been: the class system, war, religion and pop culture. His reflections on those themes have always been ambivalent and mostly quiet. He was possibly the only one artist of the YBA generation that did not compromise his integrity and did not grow predictable.

Clearly the collaboration was intense and based on a text given to them by Wallinger to start the conversation. It was about performative actions DO/UNDO/UNDANCE as the programme puts it. His starting thesis is the work of Eadweard Muybridge and his set up for his series of photographs published as: The Human and Animal Locomotion Photographs. He used a three meter high grid backdrop that was based on Alberti’s veil, the archetypal measurement system used in western art as a way to bring the 3D world on the 2D surface of a painting. Muybridge captured movement and for the first time studied in detail animal and human movement in frozen in time moments. He was also a showman and with his zoopraxiscope he toured and lectured about his new discoveries under the name Helios (meaning Sun in ancient Greek).  The exhibition last year at Tate Britain (and the Corcoran in Washington, earlier) must have been a huge source of inspiration for all three. Even the staging seemed to use the back projection in the same way as Tate’s exhibition had in the last room, where a glazed wall made all visitors specimens in front of a Muybridge/Alberti grid. In the staging the dancers (wearing flesh coloured two piece outfits) were dancing in front of a full length screen that shows out of sync video of them against the grid. Either side there is a backlit photo canvas with a UN compound gate somewhere in the world (possibly Afghanistan?). The idea of the United Nations as the failed force that is trying to undo the bad politically motivated actions of different governments around the world is clearly part of the concept. It may be seen as one of Wallinger’s cruel jokes or as an extension of his interest with modern warfare and politics. Most strikingly expressed by his 2007 State Britain installation in the Duveen Galleries at Tate Britain, where he recreated Brian Haw’s banners and protest camp as originally was set up opposite the Houses of Parliament. A striking confrontation with a fiction of one’s imagination (as the Met Police confiscated and destroyed most of the original banners) some instant archaeology of our recent past. It was a butch pronouncement of anti war sympathy but with an economy of means that made it both intriguing and visually striking. In many ways Undance is similar in that front, the following sections became the basis of the choreography: Action/Iteration/Mirroring/Reversal and vice versa. This creates open ended movements that fold into each other and reopen the same section. A continuous unfolding story over four movements doubled up/mirrored to become eight.

The first four movements have obvious fades from theme to theme, where Turnage’s music is distinctive between them creating a spare, frequently strings dominated soundstage. Strikingly a brass marching band like sound is giving vitality to a brisk third movement where all ten dancers are intertwining in pairs and slowly engaging as one group. Violins and cellos gave an intimate, jazzy, sexy sound to the fourth movement, a heated Pas de deux almost reminiscent of Kenneth MacMillan held the stage. The movement quoted Muybridge photographs throughout and found its culmination in a live zoopraxiscope like display at the end of the seventh movement when a strobe light gave the circular running of the dancers look like one of Mr Helios’s touring projections, concluding with the music dying down and the heavy breathing of the dancers becoming the sound till the lights fade once more. The last movement summed up all the broken movements in pairs and the en masse group actions into an almost training camp exercise class, with arms rotating in the air, that led to the culmination of a grandiose unfolding of the dancers using the perspectival depth of the stage. Creating a visual reference to the Darwinian development of man from the ape to homo sapiens and of course a reference to the progressive nature of Muybridge’s series of photographs allowing the progressive unfolding of a single movement. This last thrust of the dancers froze on its final unfold into this beautiful human fan shape. A logical and handsome end of this exuberant but idea heavy new dance creation.

For hardcore fans of Wayne MacGregor this evening may have possibly been a disappointment, as his much more aggressive  confrontational style was virtually absent but Turnage’s accomplished, varied and highly danceable music gave the piece a sharp focus on physicality and a melting flow. Wallinger’s shaping role created an interesting frame for the other collaborators to react against and to be constrained by. In many ways it lacked the astounding wow of a truly incredible creation and had more the searching intellectual brand of Wallinger’s other work, it left me questioning and wanting more. He is scheduled to work on a new ballet for the Royal Ballet next year, to which I’m looking forward to already. Undance will surely return to Sadler’s Wells next year in order to recoup some of its costs, as usual with their own productions. If the above seems interesting look out for it in 2012.

Find out more:

Mark Wallinger’s text is reproduced in full on Random Dance’s website

http://www.randomdance.org/productions/past_productions/undance/scenario

Muybridge was the recent subject of a play / Studies in Motion: The Hauntings of Eadweard Muybridge: 

http://exposureroom.com/members/dmbvideo/46ab09abae764eeb921ab9d52d5b643e/ )

A 2002 Guardian interview with Jackie Kay:

http://www.guardian.co.uk/books/2002/jan/12/fiction.features

Mark-Anthony Turnage’s official bio: 

http://www.boosey.com/pages/cr/composer/composer_main.asp?composerid=16405&ttype=BIOGRAPHY&ttitle=Biography/

State Britain by Mark Wallinger:

http://www.tate.org.uk/whats-on/tate-britain/exhibition/mark-wallinger-state-britain

 

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.

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.

Sylvie, that goddess

21 Jun

Sometimes superlatives prop up in so many contexts where they do not truly belong. But one artist that has thrilled and touched me like no other is Sylvie Guillem. When people talk about unimaginable magic they are not being stupidly twee, she has always found a way to give me goosebumps on stage whether she was dancing A Month in the Country, Manon or Eonnagata. An artist of such quality and consummate intelligence is very rare.  Of course there are a lot of amazing dancers out there but Guillem has a beguiling quality that I find particularly enchanting. In essence this is my blogged love letter to one of the most singular personalities of the world of ballet and dance. 

I will never forget seeing her perform from Forsythe’s In the Middle Somewhat Elevated at the Nureyev gala in Covent Garden, her pas des deux with Laurent Hilaire. It was beyond definitions of greatness, a suitable tribute to her mentor and the breathtaking central axis of the evening. From that night on I was in love.

Her upcoming world premieres at Sadler’s Wells which I have anticipated for the last six months will be an early highlight of my July. The stakes are high and she’s collaborating with Mats Ek and William Forsythe, great things are to be expected. I’ll surely write a breathless blog about the experience…while I’ll be booking for the encore performances in September!

For any newbies to Sylvie have a look at the following:

Interview to Judith Mackrell on the occasion of the Nureyev gala at the Royal Opera House in 2003. Which was my initiation to her art.

Interview to Another Magazine on the occasion of 6000 miles away at Sadler’s Wells

The quirky website of the said goddess of dance

Sylvie Guillem and the uncertainty of a new creation

28 Jun


Back in March 2009 I watched the final preview of Eonnagata
a stellar collaboration between Sylvie Guillem, Russell Maliphant and Robert Lepage with some incredible costumes by Alexander McQueen. The result was aninteresting and sometimes heady mix of Japanese kabuki, mime, dance and straight narrative. All three protagonists looked terribly excited to be on stage. Sylvie was genuinely glowing and Maliphant surely looked a very manly version of the Chevalier d’Éon. Lepage on the other hand looked very assured, despite the plain fact that his metier is directing and not being on the stage. The most wonderful aspect was the expectation of what those great artists have come
up with. Especially when considering the past collaborations between Maliphant and Guillem gave us some veritable gems.

Creating such a hybrid art form that mixes so many types of
performance is bound to be problematic
. And in this occasion the plot was wandering when it was trying to create beautiful images while falling the story by slowing down the pace of the narration. The best example being Maliphant’s battle scene. Surely one of the most
dramatically staged parts of the evening,but with very little character development. The musical choices where
very interesting and magpie like, but unfortunately clothed in a post modern ramble and haze that was not wholly appropriate. It gave the starting scene the air of a blockbuster action movie. Which I don’t think makes enough connection with the heart of the story.

Despite those failures Sylvie managed to use her stage
charisma to create some truly electrifying moments.
For instance her letter writing scene is a treatise on abstract characterisation and how it can be mingled with narrative passages, advancing the plot and humanising the character.

After the Premiere a couple of days after my experience of
the piece I looked forward to the reviews.
Most dance critics thought the work was confusing and lacked focus. A couple of them said the work was too long and that Lepage was not a natural dancer and the choreography was scaled down to suit him. All in all it seemed like a pretty unkind reaction to the work and surely not the warm reception that Guillem is used to.

When I received an email in early May that they would be
returning for another week of performances in June I instantly bought a pair of tickets in order to experience the work in its final form. On Friday 26 June I was in Row A trying to experience anew the work, wondering what alterations they had made. To my dismay two whole
scenes where cut, including the rather poetic sea passage from France to the UK.
This originally gave a wonderful respite from the action and allowed more compassion for the hero/heroine. Also a number of parts where shortened making the autopsy finale fell all too soon. While in the preview when the stage darkened with the ageing Chevalier’s body on the anatomist’s slab it was a shocking conclusion and a moment of catharsis both for the audience and the performers. This second time around the finale looked as if it had no reason to exist and had a hollow theatrical feel.

Deep in my heart I was disappointed, despite the great gift Sylvie Guillem is to the theatre. Her presence was not
enough to save the piece from its ponderous and slightly crushed ambition.
My feeling on the night was that the cuts were made in order to make the running time shorter by 15 minutes. Thus reacting to the main initial criticism. As
most of the other ones could not be addressed effectively without ripping the choreography apart.

I still felt that we were touched by greatness but somehow I
also sensed that all three of them did not want to be on the Sadler’s Wells stage. My one hope is that Sylvie and
Maliphant will rework the piece
and remove some of its dubious “post-modern” stylings and give the Chevalier the chance to shine.  I do wish her more luck with her next project and surely I’ll be there to applaud her.

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