Category Archives: Ballet & dance

Pinocchio

(reviewed at the Jerwood DanceHouse, Ipswich on 14 December)

The Jasmin Vardimon Company has taken up a pre-Christmas residency at the DanceHouse for the last leg of its autumn tour. Any dance drama which can hold the attention of a schools audience for a full 90 minutes without an interval has discovered a magic formula.

In Vardimon’s case this is a clever mix of minimal spoken narration, sthletic dance movements, circus skills and a subtle dose of the surreal in the staging. Disney this is not. Rather it takes the original 19th century Italian story of the puppet-carver who, Frankenstein-like, makes a humanoid marionette that then leads a life of its owen.

We see the making process in shadow-play, then a fairy gives the gift of a heart (and so life), but Pinocchio has to learn that existence has responsibilities as well as adventure. We meet also the predatory Cat and Fox, a bunch of playground bullies who have perfected the art of exclusion from their group and a ringmaster whose smile and gentle encouragements quickly turn vicious, even sadistic.

All this is achieved with the aid of designers Guy Bar-Amotz, Chajine Yavroyan, Abigail Hammond and Jesse Collett in a seamless collaboration with Vardimon. Performers are Maria Doulgeri, Emma Farnell-Watson, Estéban Lecoq, David Lloyd, Aoi Nakamura, Uros Petronijevic, Stefania Sotiropoulou and Alexandros Stavropoulos.

The soundscape is an ecletic one, balancing the visual elements – it’s not just the individual performers and set pieces who take to the air from time to time. The donkey masks are noteworthy, as are the linked bare forearms for Pinocchio’s lying nose and the skein of apparently cut-out dolls, such as one sees in illustrations of Victorian mantelpiece Christmas decorations.

Pinocchio runs at the Jerwood DanceHouse, Ipswich until 18 December. Check the theatre’s website (danceeast.co.uk) for performance times.

Leave a Comment

Filed under Ballet & dance, Family & children's shows, Reviews 2016

Beauty and the Beast

(reviewed at the Theatre Royal, Norwich on 26 October)

Northern Ballet has launched its autumn 2016 tour of artistic director David Nixon’s Beauty and the Beast in Norwich. This being a Dixon production, although much of the choeorgraphy follows classical lines – and his company has the skills to make this appear just as it should be – the story, the characterisations of the main characters and the costumes combine folk- and fairy-tale elements with more than a passing nod to the late 20th and 21st centuries.

His choice of music is equally wide-ranging. Glaunov for the more-or-less traditional finale but also the uncompromising diatonic and dissonance of Poulenc and the musical picture-painting of Bizet, Debussy and Saint Saëns. The Northern Ballet Sinfonia under John Pryce Jones fused these elements at the service of the dance. Duncan Hayler’s mirrored sets are lit by Tim Mitchell, mostly to fine effect except when reflexions dazzled the audience and left the dancers in shadow.

Dreda Blow, on the opening night, makes a charming Beauty, lyrical in both her solos and in her pas de deux with the Beast and with the Prince and strong of foot for the leaps with which Dixon has endowed the part. Her Prince – initially a self-centred primping posturer – is Giliano Contadini, supporting Blow effortlessly in their pas de deux and acting well throughout.

La Fée Magnifique (think Carabosse en pointe) is Victoria Sibson with Hannah Bateman as her beneficent counterpart Luminaire, a Lois Fuller swirl of shimmering flowing tissues. This storyline has Alfred, an ambiguous man-servant who we see first as the Prince’s valet and then as a manipulator for both Magnifique and Luminaire. Hironao Takahashi conveyed an impression of this multi-faceted master of ceremonies with just the right touch of control.

Ashley Dixon as the Beast – the Prince transformed as a result of his selfishness – is a fine characterisation as well as an athletic one, dangerous as only a feral animal can be but always suggesting that something better underlies the savagery, if only it were allowed to come to the surface. This is most apparent in the opening scenes of the second act with Beauty. He thoroughly diserved th audience’s applause at the first night curtain calls.

Beauty and the Beast is at the Theatre Royal, Norwich until 29 October with matinèes on 27 and 29 October. The production’s five-centre tour continues until 7 January.

Leave a Comment

Filed under Ballet & dance, Reviews 2016

Swan Lake

(reviewed at the Corn Exchange, King’s Lynn on 5 October)

The Russian State Ballet & Opera Theatre of Astrakhan has brought an intriguing production of Swan Lake to Britain for its autumn tour (3 October to 3 December); late winter tour dates are yet to be announced. Artistic director Konstantin Uralsky sets the story in the early 19th century, reminiscent of the “peace” social scenes of War and Peace. The first act costumes are attractive and the dancers equally so with neat footwork and elegant arms.

In this version Prince Siegried (Danil Sokolov)’s tutor is Von Rothbart (Maksim Melnikov), a black-clothed mentor gliding through the palace with a disquieting aura of menace. The swans are his private preserve, a secret magical theatre to which he inveigles the brooding, restless Siegfried – though you wouldn’t know that if you hadn’t read the programme notes. It’s much less of a mime and more of a dancing role than in other versions and well executed.

Benno is danced by Vslovod Tabachuk, whose jumps and turns provide some of the evening’s most exciting moments. Sokolov is somewhat upstaged (and out-performed) by his Mercutio-like friend throughout. The dainty pas de quatre performed as entertinment for the Queen (Anna Nikonova) is danced by Karina Manopova, Victoria Chuvyleva, Arthur Almukhametov and Bulat Gareev; the boys are less assured in their footwork, jumps and landlings than the girls.

When we reach the first lakesid scene, the corps de ballet provide the right mixture of technique and lyricism. Unfortuntaely Anastasia Turchina’s Odette is short on visual expression and personality; she dances with assured, well-finished arabesques and pointe work and Sokolov partners her throughout sympathetically. But still that vital spark and suggestion of instant, total passion proves elusive.

For Act Three we are in the middle of a costume ball with early Renaissance headdresses for the women and houppelande gowns for the male courtiers. Enter Odile (Maria Stetc) with her sidway glances and clever use of her arms to all-but mimic Odette’s own movements. She pulls off the firework fouettés and jétés so that it’s no wonder this malleable young prince is instantly besotted.

Eather than the usual ghostly apparition at a window as Odette recognises how she has been betrayed, there follows a well thought-out pas de quatre for Odette and Odile, Siegfried and Von Rothbart in which each pair shadows the other’s steps. For the final scene, the backcloth shows a sythe of a moon, stabbing down into the water which will finally envelop the lovers and their nemesis. Again, the corps de ballet shine as the real stars of the production.

Swan Lake (with several alternative casts) can also be seen at the Grove Theatre, Dunstable on 9 October, the Key Theatre, Peterborough on 14 October, the Marina Theatre, Lowestoft on 19 October, the Harlow Playhouse on 20 Octobe and the Gordon Craig Theatre, Stevenage on 8 November.

Leave a Comment

Filed under Ballet & dance, Reviews 2016

Notturnino|Set and Reset/Reset

(reviewed at the Jerwood DanceHouse, Iswich on 30 September)

Anything you can do… That is surely the motto of the Candoco Dance Company which opened the autumn DanceEast season in Ipswich. Notturnino is an affectionate glimpse into the world of opera singers in their twilight world (think Harwood’s Quartet) encapsulated in snatches of Verdi and Puccini, especially La forza del destino and Tosca.

Choreographer Thomas Hauert took the 1984 documenary film Tosca’s Kiss as his starting point; we hear verbal as well as musical excerpts from its soundtrack, clarified for an English-speaking audience by screened subtitles. The six dancers, four of whom are physically impaired, swoop across the stage in leaps, lunges and variations on the classical attitude, emphasised by quick-change theatrical costumes by Natasa Stamatari, all vaguely 18th century in inspiration.

Shortend arms, a wheel chair and, notably, two crutches for a one-legged performer prove that disability is no barrier to virtuosity. That single leg and what almost seemed sometimes like four arms emerged from the groupings with star quality. Hauert makes no concessions in either the ensemble or solo sections to his dancers; they return the confidence full measure.

Trisha brown choreographed Set and Reset in 1983; this has been redirected by Abigail Yager as Set and Reset/Reset earlier this year. The dancers wear Celeste Dandeker-Arnold’s flowing and diaphonous grey dresses and trousers as they singly, in pairs and in larger groupings lunge, leap and spin across the stage to Laurie Anderson’s tintabulation-heavy score, suggesting a sequence of human dramas underpinning the abstraction of the moves which we are watching.

The performers are Megan Armishaw, Joel Brown, Tanja Erhart, Adam Gain, Jason Mabana and Laura Patay. Candoco tour both regionally and internationally so, if you happen to be in a place where this double-bill is being performed, take advantage of the opportunity and see it. You don’t have to make mental concessions – the work sets its own high standard – just as any other modern dance company. Rather, it’s up to the audience’s response to match that of the performers.

Leave a Comment

Filed under Ballet & dance, Reviews 2016

Terra Incognita

(reviewed at the Abbey Hall Creative Space, Eye on 28 July)

Games of life and games of love have at least three things in commons – they have winners, they have losers and they present an unknown territory in which to conquer or perish. Rosamund Small ambiguous scenario for Robert Binet’s new ballet makes uncertainty as much the theme as resolution.

Abbey Hall Creative Space is a fine addition to Suffolk’s often idiosyncratic mix of theatres and arts centres, many of which have taken over redundant buildings originally erected for completely different purposes. It’s oblong and on two levels with a pleasant outside space on either side.

Binet’s Wild Space initiative, which he describes as open-source ballet, uses the venue to its full advantage. There are five dancers – Ida Praetorius and Andreas Kaas from the Royal Danish Ballet, Emma Hawes from the National Ballet of Canada, Yawmine Naghdi of the Royal Ballet and Martin ten Kortenaar from the Dutch National Ballet.

Two violinists, Clio Gould and Jonathan Morton, accompany much of the action from the upper level, which is where the audience begins its viewing. Natural as well as stage lighting complements the choreography, which is firmly based in the classical tradition with the girls en pointe and the boys partnering for lifts which bring the idiom firmly up to date.

Like the action, the story takes us to several levels of love, friendship, enmity, forgiveness and acceptance. As daylight fades, we follow the dancers utside where the story of displacement ends bare-footed on grass. Binet’s whirling swirling choreography demands much of his performers, who are all technically accomplished, but the result has a magic of its own.

Next year Wild Space will develop and reinterpret Terra Incognita in Amsterdam, Copenhagen, London and Toronto. it should be an interesting process to follow, especially with the mooted collaboration with digital platform Artery. This will involve creative spces as well as artists and performers globally.

Leave a Comment

Filed under Ballet & dance, Reviews 2016

Swan Lake

(reviewed at the Theatre Royal, Norwich on 19 April)

Northern Ballet has never forgotten that its original title was Northern Ballet Theatre. Artistic director David Nixon’s apprach to both the classics of the ballet repertoire and to commissioned new work uses the strength of the drama inherent in each plot just as much as the lyricism of the traditional choreography.

His casts need to act as well as dance. His new production of Swan Lake retains the outline of the Petipa and Ivanov scenario but with some very 21st century twists. Odette (Martha Leebolt at the performance I saw) is no fragile princess trapped by an evil magician.

Rather, she is in that seductive yet sinister tradition of the beautiful creature who materialises out of the water to lure a young man into her realm. From the naiads and sirens of Greek myth through those river-haunting undines and lorelei to the rusalye and the shape-shifting seal-women of Scandinavian legend – not to mention those familiar through Grimm and Andersen – they bring disaster for humans.

Idilia (Abigail Prudames) is of the earth but still vulnerable to rejection. Specifically she is of New England at the end of the 19th century. Both Anthony’s father (Hironao Takahashi) and mother (Victoria Sibson) want her to marry their son (Tobias Batley) who has grown into a personable but exceedingly troubled young man.

In childhood Anthony had seen his younger brother drown; now he haunts the lakeside where the tragedy occurred while coping with a realisation that his feelings for his best friend Simon (Nicola Gervasi) are trembling between accustomed comradeship and something much more passionate and sexual.

Horse-playing friends, with Ashley Dixon outstanding as the one who never quite pulls off the athleticism of the rest of the group, fail to involve Anthony in their sport. The choreography for the boys involves sequences of leaps and lifts, all very well executed with impeccable timing. Whirls and twirls pervade the pas de trois for Anthony, Simon and Odilia.

We revert to more familiar sequences when Anthony is once more alone at the lakeside. In the fading light Odette and her fellow “swans” emerge from the rushes and captivate Anthony. He overcomes his fear of the lake to join them, much to a returning Simon’s consternation.

At Anthony’s coming-of-age party, Odilia stands out among the preening young women in her white Parisian gown and the merrymaking culminates in another pas de trois for her with and equally entranced Simon which is both lyrical and demandingly intense.

By the third act, Odilia and Anthony have married, but he cannot escape the influence of Odette. Simon’s attempts to distract his friend simply result in a mutual and passionate embrace, which horrifies Odilia. Back at the lakeside, the dance of the four cygnets suggests embryonic vengeful Wilis as we return to the dance sequences for the swans.

Whether or not you count Anthony’s final plunge into their realm as a happy ending is a moot point. Dramatically, it all flows well enough, though the transitions from new, more contemporary choreography with the familiar 19th century one is not always seamless.

I had the impression that some audience members were slightly bemused. The Northern Ballet Sinfonia under Brett Morris made John Longstaff’s arrangement of Tchaikovsky’s score (with subtractions and additions) sound fresh and sympathetic to the performers on stage as well as in the pit. Dave Gillan’s designs and Peter Mumford’s clever lighting enhance the experience.

Swan Lake is at the Theatre Royal, Norwich until 23 April with matinées on 21 and 23 April. It can also be seen at the Milton Keynes Theatre between 26 and 30 April.

Leave a Comment

Filed under Ballet & dance, Reviews 2016