Category Archives: Review

Men in Motion 2

Men in Motion

Sadlers Wells Theatre, London

15 March, 2012

After the first instalment, Ivan Putrov’s second Men in Motion was, unofficially, to be a vehicle for man-of-the-moment Sergei Polunin: this didn’t prove to be the case. Although he did have more solo stage time than any of the other dancers, Polunin’s presence was not the high point of the evening.

L’Apres Midi d’Un Faune is one of those iconic works that should almost be left alone, steeped in its rich history. If these works are to be tackled it should be under very special circumstances, and I don’t feel Polunin approached this with the requisite reverence. He executed the steps with his customary beauty, but he failed to fully inhabit the role. His second solo, Narcisse, with choreography by Kasian Goleizovsky, was an entirely different affair. Yes, he was panting on stage (as some critics were happy to condemn), but I have no issue with a dancer showing their effort. The choreography was pure and it was danced with a serene clarity that very few dancers can manage; it was this point that made me worry for Polunin’s future and ask myself how long he can maintain this quality of dancing outside the structure of a company.

The success of an evening of dance like this depends on the structure of the programme. There must be a coherent thread running from start to finish: it is too easy to throw several variations and pas de deux on stage and let the audience wade through them, but for an offering like this to carry a message takes far more sensitivity. This sensitivity was evident in the first half of the programme. With a version of Dying Swan (not the best interpretation I’ve seen, but nonetheless danced with integrity by Andrew Bowman), L’Apres Midi d’Un Faune and Vestris – an homage both to August Vestris and its creator Baryshnikov danced with humour and reverence by Putrov – right up to Round About Tim, a tastefully derivative classical rendition by Jorma Elo and performed by Tim Matiakis, there was a reconstruction of the ballet time-line, reaching back almost to its very foundations: this was both clever and full of respect on Putrov’s part.

The second act was a different story. Russell Maliphant’s Two x Two could have been guilty of being standard Maliphant fare with very recognisable lighting and costume, but the quality of the work says otherwise. Dancers Dana Fouras and Jesse Kovarsky gave an outstanding account of the choreographers vocabulary.  Nacho Duato’s Remanso was the highlight of the evening for me – Putrov, along with Isaac Montllor and the sublime Clyde Archer were flawless in this blissfully un-self-aware piece: it doesn’t need to push the “we might be dancing but we’re men”, instead it allows the dancers to be tender and romantic, in a way furthering their masculinity – in a programme about male dancing, this was the pinnacle.

Had this been the entire programme, there would have been a balanced and tangible journey or sorts. However, the final Polunin number, jointly choregraphed by himself and Valentino Zucchetti, was all wrong. For a renegade like Sergei, I can see the obvious attraction of an icon such as James Dean, but classical ballet simply isn’t the right medium for expressing it. The piece has the feeling of a last-minute finish to it which doesn’t help its cause, and there’s something very trite about expressing despair with standard ballet vocabulary. Polunin is certainly worthy of a better vehicle – there’s a lot to be said for self-expression, as much as to be said for playing to one’s strenghts.

This time around Putrov just about got the programme right, but with future installments of the Men in Motion idea, given his huge knowledge and love of dance, I think he could really hit the nail on the head: it is a wonderful platform for some very interesting, and otherwise rarely seen choregraphy.

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James Löffler: LFO


Resolution! at Robin Howard Dance Theatre, The Place, London

7 February 2012

The blurb for LFO is full of technical jargon about waves and frequencies, and to see how this was manifested as an intense collage of human relationships was what really struck a chord – how an abstract scientific idea can fuel a beautiful physical response.

The opening video vignette, to Fat Boy Slim, was slick and gave the piece a universal and progressive edge, with a strong, if indefinite, political slant. What ensued was a succession of solos, duets and ensemble numbers, all danced to music that would be more expected in a club than a theatre – this served to highlight Löffler’s musical prowess, having edited and mixed the tracks himself as well as crafting the choreography.

There was something of an 80’s loucheness to the movement at times, especially in the solo moments with Chris Linda, whose expressive torso emulated the wave motion which inspired the work. Tempering this were sections of architectural classicism, particularly in the duet between Melanie Cox and Richard Hackett, which was beautiful in its restraint. In general the partner work was innovative and interesting, nothing looking contrived or familiar. The closing solo, danced by Sonoya Mizuno, was joyous: her impressive physicality not overshadowing the clarity and purity of the movement.

Löffler has managed to create a work that has none of the pretence and baggage which attaches itself to so many new choreographies – it is fresh and has a definite “now” feeling to it. Regardless of the motive behind the piece, although there was no discernible narrative or pretext, this was simply an impressive piece of choreography, danced with maturity and assurance: it deserves to be developed and appreciated. I’m looking forward to seeing where this talented young man takes his work next.

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A Cold, Empty Trip to Verona

Romeo & Juliet, Royal Opera House, January 19th, 2012

Kenneth MacMillan’s Romeo and Juliet has become somewhat of a calling card for The Royal Ballet; after The Sleeping Beauty it arguably the company’s most recognisable work. For Tamara Rojo and Carlos Acosta, it is a ballet that has done much in advancing their careers and establishing them as internationally respected ballet stars, both individually and as a principal couple. The evidence from this performance suggests that both the lead dancer’s performances and the company as a whole need a shake-up if this production is to avoid the ballet scrap-heap.

The sold-out house is a clear indication of the esteem in which both the ballet and the Acosta/Rojo partnership are held and while there were several glorious moments in this work, such as the dance of Juliet’s friends and a wonderful Mandolin dance, there is simply not enough to justify the following. It was in the street scenes that the cracks of disrepair are starting to show: the harlots, wearing what look like fright-wigs, have lost their gritty edge and the general hustle-and-bustle drama around the edges is gone. While both of these are probably victims of under-rehearsal, the sword fighting seems to be suffering from the opposite; the metronomic meeting of the blades has become more of an exercise in counting completely lacking spontaneity. These smaller elements are suffering, presumably with a bulk of rehearsal resources being aimed at the flashier moments, and need some love and attention if the ballet is to retain any sense of theatrical coherence.

The legendary Rojo – Acosta pairing seems always to be a draw. Not only are they celebrated for their technical proficiency, but this ballet is generally accepted as the perfect vehicle for their acting prowess and on-stage chemistry. Whether it was an off-night or they’ve done so many that they are on autopilot at this stage, none of their famed passion was on display. The role is an ideal showcase for Acosta’s preternatural turning ability, and he duly obliged on this occasion, but his acting was flat – a boyish nonchalance coming across the footlights as complacency. Rojo’s technique is much feted, but sometimes, as was the case on this occasion, it stifles her; everything was so assured and studied that it lost any sense of movement and belied her character’s emotional whimsy.

While the principal couple failed to ignite any interest, the supporting roles provided far more interesting viewing. Christopher Saunders and Genesia Rosato as Lord and Lady Capulet performed with elegant gravitas and Rosato’s grievance over Tybalt’s body was devastating. Gary Avis and José Martín as Tybalt and Mercutio respectively, were proof that multiple visits to a role don’t need to induce stagnation.

Romeo and Juliet has been a cornerstone of the Royal Ballet since it premiered in 1965. What should become richer and more nuanced with time – and MacMillan’s choreography still has the capacity to be danced gloriously – has become lazy, with many of the performances being danced from memory, rather than with the engaged presence it deserves. The ballet needs to be curated in its entirety, with the roles of every size and visibility given adequate attention: otherwise it will become a pastiche, and a dusty vestige of MacMillan’s original masterpiece.

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Darcey Does Hollywood

Darcey Bussell Dances Hollywood, BBC 1, Christmas Day

On Christmas day we saw Darcey complete her latest challenge: recreating four iconic dances from the musicals of Hollywood’s Golden Era. This went a long way to promote the genre of theatre dance, but little to champion the cause of ballet.

Many people both here and previously, even Baryshnikov, have awarded to Fred Astaire’s the hypothetical accolade of greatest dancer that has ever lived. The worthiness of Astaire as title holder is difficult to assess given the breadth and depth of dance across the years, but to be acclaimed by those who themselves would surely have been featured in any debate on the topic is a strong indicator of peer-respect if nothing else. Astaire was gifted with a sense of style and theatricality that became a landmark of his era. Others possessed this to varying extents: Ginger Rogers, Vera-Ellen and Gene Kelly, for example. What made their talents truly magical was the way they made choreography that was technically and stylistically difficult look like a spontaneous expression of joy.

There was a full and candid film diary of the process Darcey went through to get from learning the choreography to performing the routines with the requisite gay abandon. The studio footage we were shown wasn’t that of a prima ballerina whipping through the steps with ease; Bussell, not exactly decrepit, but not quite at her physical peak either (at her own admittance), struggled with the work. It was open and honest. Even for someone as physically adept as Darcey, the transition between genres is tough and not as easy as programmes such as Strictly Come Dancing would lead us to believe; this was both refreshing and frustrating.

There is a fundamental difference between this programme and Strictly: here we get to see a world class ballerina at pains to attain a level as close to perfection as she can; in Strictly we see celebrities transformed into “dancers” in a couple of weeks, with a few hours rehearsal per day. One of these scenarios is a nod to the work that must go into achieving some kind of technical or artistic mastery; the other trivialises the discipline, suggesting that with a few weeks of training, anyone can do it. Reality TV has let people believe that they can be anything they want in an instant; the contestants on such dance shows always pay homage to the dancers after they get a glimpse of what the training involves – but it is just that: a glimpse. Dance is a lot more than a jazzy outfit and a stage-smile, especially when the level sought is so high, and thankfully Darcey showed us just that.

However, just like the dance of Astaire’s era, ballet is demanding in technique and artistry – probably more so than any other dance style. At the beginning of the show, we saw Bussell in an excerpt from Ashton’s Sylvia, at the height of her powers; just to hammer home how good she was within her own genre – the culmination of a lifetime of toil, God-given natural facility and the indescribable quality that made her so watchable. The journey she made here is rarely made in the opposite direction, however; we never see a celebrity, let alone a dancer from a different field, tackle the world of classical ballet: it is not a path than dared be tread in a few weeks.

What we saw here was a dancer not afraid to expose herself to criticism or hardship in her search for perfection; we saw all the seams before we got to see any of the very impressive finished product. Without doubt someone could find fault in her work, but definitely not in her work ethic. Looking between the lines here we wouldn’t be blamed for seeing the ballet dancer placed on top of the dance food-chain, able to turn to other styles with their fearless work-ethic, but I think Bussell is quite apart from the masses here. Ballet should be championed through something like this, for the work it takes to be at the top if nothing else, but once again the spangles win out. If only someone would give the return journey a serious go, maybe ballet would be acknowledged for what it is – a life’s work.

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