Category Archives: Ballet dance & mime

Casanova
reviewed in Norwich on 4 April

Northern Ballet has never been afraid to present those facets of drama which are not usually fully explored in traditional ballet scenarios. Its latest première is based on Ian Kelly’s biography of Casanova and choreographed by Kenneth Tindall with an original score by Kerry Muzzey, probably best known as composer for film and television.

How you view Giacomo Casanova, the defrocked Venetian priest who fell foul of the Inquisition, led an amormously ramshackle life in various European courts and ended as a count’s librarian in Bohemia, probably depends on which dramatised adaptations of his life and loves (with the emohasis on the latter) you’ve encountered. Between them, Kelly and Tindall have scraped away some of this clutter to suggest a far more intellectual man of the Enlightenment than usually confronts us.

Touring ballet productions tend to simplify the scenic aspects and rely on costuming and lighting. Christopher Oram uses a succssion of moveable black and gilt ribbed panels (pillars or bookcases?) with an ornate baroque picture-frame lowering above. His costume palette concentrates on a complete range of greys, from almost-white to near-black. Reds, purple, gold and blue are reserved for the principal characters.

Alatair West’s lighting pours purple onto the early Venetian scenes and whitens as Casanova’s travels take him to Louis XV’s Paris. Nathan Fifield conducts Muzzey’s score which is often stridently brassy as the brass and timpani weigh in. It suits the story very well and complemens Tindall’s choreography.

This makes much use of lunging steps for the men balanced by equally forceful arm movements. These characterise the Inquisitors in particular. Casanova’s female sequence of lovers at times echo this with their extended arabesques en pointe and in the lifts. Many of these are athletic but not always graceful; the pas de deux with Dreda Blow’s Bellino doesn’t really suggest the love inherent in it.

Giulano Contadini in the title role fully deserves the acclamation awarded it at the curtain call. He acts as well as dances the part, from musical seminarian to disillused philosopher. it’s a rounded portrait of a real man. Of the other roles, Hannh Bateman as the husband-abused Henriette, Victoria Sibson as mme de Pompadour, Javier Torres as Senator Bragadin, Mlindi Kulashe as the Chief Inquisitor and Sean Bates as Cardinal de Bernis are also three-dimensional characterisations.

Four and a half-star rating.

Casanova continues at the Theatre Royal, Norwich until 8 April with matinées on 6 and 8 April. it can also be seen at the Milton Keynes Theatre between 19 and 22 April.

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Getting Dressed
reviewed in Ipswich on 18 March

The stage is dark. Then a bare foot intrudes through a slit in the backing curtain, followed by another at a completely different height. Then yet a third, also apparently disembodied. Hands in a similar fashion follow and finally faces peer out of the gloom at the audience. By now even the most restless child is intrigued.

Suddenly the black floor-cloth and vertical drapes vanish, to reveal a white floor and a translucent backing. Not to mention the three main performers – Ellen Slatkin, Darragh Butterworth and Keir Patrick. heaps of brightly coloured clothes materialise and the dancers strip to their underwear to grab and wear whatever takes their fancy, regardless of sex or shape.

Rosie Heafford’s choreography is athletic, not to say acrobatic at times, with hints of Asian and Middle Eastern dance forms as the costume changes dictate. Hats and headgear of various kinds make their appearance, spilt onto the stage by a quasi-puppeteer figure, as do scarves which can be a stole, a blindfold, a sarong or a veil. The performers turn and stretch, leap and pivot toJames Marples’ and Amir Shoenfeld’s pleasantly atonal score.

Subtle lighting effects by Ben Pacey keep the eye engaged and there is enough humour generated by the sequences of apparently random quick changes to keep a young audience focussed on both the action and Verity Quinn’s plethora of costumes. At just under one hour, this Second Hand Dance production is an ideal length for a show without words and its target audience.

I had the distinct impression that wardrobes would be raided, just as soon as everyone had returned home…

Four star rating.

Getting Dressed continues at the Ipswich Jerwood DanceHouse until 20 March and can also be seen at the Cambridge Junction on 6 April.

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The Red Shoes
reviewed in Norwich on 21 February

Seeing the Powell-Pressburger film The Red Shoes for the first time (for me that was in 1949) is, as the programme notes for this Matthew Bourne danced adaptation emphasise, something of a defining mark for anyone with an interest in ballet as well as the cinema.

Bourne keeps to the film story but adds some subtle hommage to the choreography of, among others, Fokine (Les Sylphides), Massine (Beach) and Cranko (The Lady and the Fool) in the episodes featuring the ecclectic repertoire of the déraciné company run so autocratically by Lermontov (Sam Archer).

There are nice humorous touches, notably when the soon to be supplanted prima ballerina Irina (Michela Meazza) and her posturing partner Ivan (Liam Mower) monopolise an over-worked and under-staffed stage crew in order to ensure that their follow-spots for Les Sylphides are becomingly bright and accurate.

Such characterisations are neatly pointed by all the dancers. It’s great fun picking up the in-jokes, such as the Wilson and Keppel sand dance and the music-hall girls’ abundance of slightly moulting feathers – but you lose nothing if you just take it as it unfolds.

Archer radiates the certainties of a man who has no time to waste on anything which isn’t for the good of his company and even more importantly, his vision for how it should be. So he recruits struggling composer Julius Craster (Dominic North) but reacts violently when Craster and his latest protegée Victoria Page (Ashley Shaw) fall in love.

Emotion is the enemy of art, Archer maintains; which was basically Diaghilev’s reaction to Nijinsky’s doomed marriage to Romola de Pulszky. The irony is, of course, that Lermontov is strongly attracted to Victoria. Glen Graham’s ballet-master and character dancer Grischa can foresee disaster looming; his tempter in the actual Red Shoes ballet sequence plays out both sides of the scenario.

There’s great fluidity as well as style in Bourne’s choeography, both in the ensemble dances and the mre formal pas de deux. The settings by Lez Brotherston take us effortlessly from front of stage to back-stage, from the luxury of Monte Carlo and a Mayfair salon to East End music-hall and garret lodgings – and swirl us in between through a surreal world which is neither realistic stage set nor pure abstraction.

This is a show where the lighting matters; Paule Constable achieves this superbly. The story is multi-layered and the choreography and visuals mirror this in perfect synchrony. The pre-recorded score has been arranged by Terry Davies from the film and concert music of Bernard Herrmann. It’s an evening whee a story and how it’s told balance perfectly.

Four and a half-star rating.

The Red Shoes is at the Theatre Royal, Norwich until 25 February with matinées on 23 an 25 February. The national tour continues until 22 July, including Curve, Leicester between 16 and 20 May.

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La fille mal gardée
reviewed in Norwich on 27 January

In the UK we have become accustomed to the 1960 version by Frederick Ashton with its quirky Osbert Lancaster sets, which used mainly the Hérold score of the 1820s and 30s. The music which Pepita and Ivanov chose for their 1885 St Petersburg staging was that by Hertel, originally created for the 1864 Taglioni production in Berlin.

This story of the farm-girl Lise who hoodwinks her widowed mother Simone and her potential suitor to marry Colas, the boy she really loves, has a pretty distinguished parentage. Ironically, this pastoral idyll all first reached the footlights a mere fortnight before the fall of the Bastille; it was the creation of Dauberval and used a medley of contemporary popular songs and dances. It reached London in 1791.

The version which the Russian State Ballet of Siberia is currently touring across the UK adds choreography by Alexander Gorsky and Mark Peretokin to that of Dauberval; the score is that of the now little-known Hertel. So it has pedigree, with proper weight given to the mime narrative elements of the story (Dauberval was one of the pioneers of the ballet d’action). The mixture of choreographic styles – late 18th, early 20th and 21st centuries – though not entirely seamless.

As always, the corps de ballet makes the most of its chances, as does Dmitry Diachkov as Colas, whirling across the stage in a sequence of virtuosic displays while always remaining in character. His Lise is Elena Svinko, a dancer who does not seem to be his natural partner, and whose wrist and hand movements are not as elegant as they should be, though her pointe work is impeccable. She also missed that sense of innocent mischieviousness which should bring Lise alive.

Almost walking away with the whole show is Alexey Balva as Simone. British audiences, brought up with the pantomime dame tradition, tend to take this sort of travestie character to its heart, and the final scene’s clog-dance proved it. Denis Pogorely as dim-witted Alain and Maxim Dashidondokov as his well-to-do father complete the line-up of principals.

Balva and Diachkov apart, it is difficult to escape the feeling that the joins in choreographic styles are altogether too visible. The kermesse-like buccolic dance at the end of the first act has great liveliness, but this Rousseauesque tale of simple country life remains just a little two-dimensional. Yes, the characters are all types rather than flesh-and-blood people, but I couldn’t help but be reminded that the genesis for the story was an engraving – La reprimande.

Three and a half star rating.

La fille mal gardée can also be seen at the Regent Theatre, Ipswich on 23 February. The Russian State Ballet of Siberia tour continues with Swan Lake at the Theatre Royal, Norwich on 28 January, at the Cliffs Pavilion, Southend on 29 January and 26 February and at the Regent Theatre, Ipswich between 23 and 25 February.

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