Monthly Archives: March 2013

Review: Above Me The Wide Blue Sky

This Fevered Sleep/Young Vic co-production is difficult to classify – theatre, music, performance art, installation? I cannot get out much at the moment so grabbed a chance to see it this afternoon and am glad I did. It reminded me of the Orb track “Little Fluffy Clouds,” a drifting meditation on memories. The performance itself is only 45 minutes long but the doors open to the installation for an hour before. I recommend going at least 30 minutes before the performance time to ‘acclimatise.’ The video gives some idea but is too short to establish the meditative state the actual performance/installation creates.

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Big theatre, little theatre

Some people may think it is odd that I can rate a travelling company such as Vienna Festival Ballet more highly than the obviously much more skilled Royal Ballet. As I can’t go out much at the moment, I decided to look at the very different experience of big and small theatres and venues.

Skill levels. Obviously the big companies can draw on more highly skilled actors and dancers than the little ones but sometimes the very best actors love working in small theatres (e.g. Michael Gambon and Eileen Atkins in “All That Fall” last year) and some small theatres can draw the very best actors, such as the Orange Tree in Richmond. It also takes a different sort of skill to work on a big stage in a big theatre – OperaUpClose can get extremely good singers who may not have the power to fill the Coliseum or ROH.

Musical scale. Most of the best concerts I have been to have been in small venues such as the JACK Quartet playing Xenakis’s astonishing Tetras Quartet at the Wigmore Hall or the amazing Japanese band Nissennenmondai at Upset the Rhythm. You can never see that level of virtuosity in a symphony orchestra or in a stadium, unless it is on the video screens.

Practice makes perfect. Travelling companies will recruit for a specific production and then play it night after night, raising their performances to levels they would not initially be able to achieve. Oddly, the use of pre-recorded music can help too as it is absolutely the same every night. I love the use of a full orchestra by the Royal Ballet or English National Ballet but the tightest performance by the ENB I have seen was their collaboration with Flawless in “Against Time,” a touring production danced to a recorded backing.

Friendliness. Small theatres and venues offer a far more intimate experience than the bigger venues and sharing the experience with a few dozen people can make you feel a part of something very special whereas larger places can become very impersonal.

 

Review, Apollo, etc., Royal Ballet

I loved Balanchine’s Apollo with Rupert Pennefather in the title role: far better than the disappointing production by ENB last year. It still had the silly air guitar (or was it air lute?) for Apollo but the others abandoned their props quite quickly, although the choreography was unaltered so that Itziar Mendizabal as Polyhymnia held her hand rigidly under her face as if still holding her mask.

My ticket said the other works were “new Wheeldon” and “new Ratmansky.” Sadly the “new Ratmansky” turned out to be “24 Preludes” with music by Chopin. 24 separate pieces of music in 44 minutes! Only three (by my count around the 17th 18th and 24th) were long enough to give the music and dance the chance to develop anywhere, so that’s 21 saccharine pills and a bit of sugar. The Chopin had its usual effect on me, leaving me yawning and having to force my eyes open. I knew I’d never stay awake through the subsequent 30 minute interval so had to go home to bed and missed the Wheeldon; a great shame as it was set to music by Britten. Still well worth the ticket for Apollo alone.

Review: Sleeping Beauty, Vienna Festival Ballet

This was remarkably good for such a small company and very enjoyable. I have seen Vienna Festival Ballet many times over the years and have never been disappointed. Their standard of dancing is high, probably because they keep to a small repertoire of classic ballets. I don’t know how many times they have already performed Sleeping Beauty but their schedule shows 49 more performances in this tour alone!

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Photograph courtesy Gill Mallek, Vienna Festival Ballet

As can be seen above, the sets consist of little more than painted backdrops which work well to show off the dancers. It is difficult to single out particular performances as they all work so hard, but Michaela Griffin as Princess Aurora, Miguel Piquer as Prince Desire and Emily-Joy Smith as the Lilac Fairy were excellent (not necessarily the dancers featured in these publicity shots).

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Photographs courtesy Gill Malleck, Vienna Festival Ballet

As the photographs above show, the simple sets are made up for by superb costumes which change frequently, as most dancers take on multiple parts. As with all aspects, they are strictly traditional “tights, tutus and tiaras” but the size of the theatres they perform in ensures the opportunity to enjoy them in detail. Marius Pepita’s original 1890 choreography is enhanced with small touches by Emily Hutton (I don’t remember Carabosse pulling off Catalabutte’s wig before but it added a nice touch). The only, minor problem was that the playing of the recorded score was occasionally a little clumsy – DJing is an art too!

Overall, this was much less ambitious that the Moscow City Ballet last week but I must admit I enjoyed it far more.

Review: Romeo & Juliet, Moscow City Ballet

This was a very colourful production (choreography by Victor Smirnov-Golovanov) with macabre elements (skulls, executioners, vultures, skulls) rather crudely underlying the tragedy. Although it was melodramatic, I really enjoyed it, particularly the male dancers who were the highlight of the night, leaping, kicking, prancing, twirling – even when dying in some cases!

IMG_0279 Romeo & Juliet smallRomeo meeting Juliet at the ball (photo courtesy Moscow City Ballet)

I saw Talgat Kozhabayev and Alevtina Lapshina in these parts but the image is not fully credited – Romeo looks different but Juliet the same. Kozhabeyev was good as Romeo but, sadly, Alevtina was not really up to Juliet which is a very difficult part in any production, demanding the innocence of a 14 year old girl with the skills of a principal ballerina. However, she shone in the final pas de deux as Romeo dances with her ‘dead’ body – always a very moving scene.

The strange layout of the Watford Colosseum meant I was very close to the small (c. 30 piece) orchestra who did well with Prokofiev’s ravishing score (my favourite full length ballet score), although their very good conductor is not credited in the cast list. I could see facial expressions and finger work in fantastic detail: very different from the view from the ROH amphitheatre.

IMG_2531The orchestra setting up (my photo)

I saw three versions of Romeo & Juliet in 2011 (the ENB’s twice) but there were none around in 2012 so it was good to see it again, even in this simple touring production. Reading earlier reviews, it appears a different, more highly praised dancer played Juliet in the early stages but both the male corps de ballet and the orchestra have clearly improved considerably since then. All in all, if they are dancing anywhere near you then this is well worth visiting and the Watford audience certainly loved it.

Review: The Prisoner’s Dilemma, LAMDA at Linbury Studio

It is difficult to believe this was not a professional production. The excellent play by David Edgar is a gripping analysis of attempts to bring peace to a post-Soviet country loosely based on Yugoslavia. It is mostly talk, but punctuated by one very dramatic scene. I have previously seen LAMDA in commercial theatres such as the Lyric and Riverside Studios but this was in the small studio (previously Royal Ballet rehearsal studio) at LAMDA itself, taking the audience right into the action. I am reluctant to single out any one performance as they were all so good!