Tag Archives: Sadler’s Wells

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


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:


Mark-Anthony Turnage’s official bio: 


State Britain by Mark Wallinger:



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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