Category Archives: Ballet and dance

The Nutcracker

reviewed at the Norwich Theatre Royal on 21 November

It’s a popular ballet at this time of year, the story of a Christmas festivity with many layers of meaning. It’s also a ballet of two acts which is notoriously difficult to fit nto an over-arching cohesion.

Act One is all story, with dancing. Act Two can then seem like a succession of divertissements with little relationship to what has gone before. David Nixon’s Northern Ballet binds the two acts more closely than many productions.

Here Clara (Rachael Gillespie) is a teenager not much junior to her sister Louise (Minju Kang). So she dances en pointe throughout, distancing herself from the younger members of the Edwards family’s party.

The period is Regency and the place is England. That allows for uncle Drosselmeyer (Mlindi Kulashe) to conjure up an orientalist fantasy world both at the party and in the gardens beyond the clouds. Louise and her suitor  James (Javier Torres) fit into this quite logically as the Sugar-Plum fairy and her cavalier.

Some of the costumes have been redesigned for this revival; the whole production looks fresh. Dixon melds his own choreography with some of Ivanov’s original set pieces, but the joins are scarcely discernible.

Gillespie gives us a credible portrait of a girl on the cusp of womanhood, suggesting the tentativeness of that transitional state. She becomes the focus of the dance as well as the drama in Act Two, one which Kang and Torres don’t quite manage to defeat.

There’s a dash of the Lord of Misrule about Kulashe, whether displaying the animated dolls (Kyungka Kwak, Jonathan Hanks and Riku Ito) from his cabinet of curiosities or launching Clare and Ashley Dixon’s Nutcracker prince on their fantasy journey.

Kevin Poeung, Adam Ashcroft, Nina Queiroz da Silva, Gavin McCraig, Abigail Prudames, Conner Jordan-Collins, Harris Beattie and George Liang all do well with the national and character dances. There a real sense of ensemble in the corps de ballet.

Four star rating.

The Nutcracker runs at the Norwich Theatre Royal until 24 November with matinées on 22 and 24 November.

 

Leave a Comment

Filed under Ballet and dance, Reviews 2018

Wise Children

reviewed at the Cambridge Arts Theatre on 20 November

Emma Rice’s new company, named for this launch production, has something of the quirkiness which one associates with her previous nest at Kneehigh. It’s a bold, multi-disciplined stage adaptation of Wise Children, Angela Carter’s last novel, and has a suitably exploited show-business background.

The kernel of the story centres on twin sisters, Dora and Nora. They are possibly the fruit of a one-night stand by actor-manager Melchior Hazard  (himself a scion of a sequence of such theatrical demigods) and a music-hall artiste. From the beginning we are made aware of the geographical and genre hierarchy of early 20th century entertainment.

Rice’s production uses Lyndie Wright’s puppets to represent these infant daughters, and later their putative cousins who may have been fathered by Melchior’s brother Peregrine. Adult Dora and Nora act as a species of chorus as the story unravels, played engagingly by Gareth Snook and Etta Murfitt.

As sub-teenagers, brought up by their grandmother Chance (Katy Owen), they are played by Bettrys Jones and Mirabelle Gremaud and later – in their stunning showgirl manifestation by Melissa James and Omari Douglas. Murfitt’s choreography fits the mood and period before us in perfect harmony with musical director Ian Ross’ pot-pourri score.

The younger Melchior is played by Ankur Bahl, who ages into Paul Hunter. Young Peregrine is Sam Archer, maturing (?) into Mike Shepherd. Patrycja Kujawska is Lady Atalanta, Melchior’s well-heeled, well-connected bride of his later years. The on-stage band is supplemented by the actors’ own instrumental as well as vocal contributions.

Yes, if you haven’t read the book, it does at first seem very complicated – a succession of music-hall sketches. Then the sheer theatricality of the presentation, like a succession of finely-executed transformation scenes draws us into its own slightly off-kilter world. Vicki Mortimer’s set and Malcolm Rippeth’s lighting aid the journey enormously.

Theatre – whether minimal or elaborate, bare boards and scarce a fistful of actors or backed by a lavish budget and a cast of thousands – is designed to draw us into another world. That can be realistically represented or symbolically suggested. In the end, it doesn’t really matter. What does is its effect.

Wise Children (the company) has given itself something to live up to. That should be fun to watch.

Four and a half star rating.

Wise Children runs at the Cambridge Arts Theatre until 24 November with matinées on 22 and 24 November.

Leave a Comment

Filed under Ballet and dance, Music Music theatre & opera, Plays, Reviews 2018

The Boy in the Lighthouse

reviewed at the Hostry Festival, Norwich on 24 October

Lighthouses are beacons of safety. They are positioned to warn of submerged hazards and the tumultuous seas which crash over them. Refuges – but perhaps in some ways they are also prisons.

This year’s Hostry Festival organisers, the PBSK Partnership in association with the University of East Anglia and Booja Booja, have commissioned an immersive piece of movement theatre from Total Ensemble Theatre Company and Rebecca Chapman.

With the audience on all four sides of the acting area, sounds, lighting and storm-seas colours for the simple costumes focus our concentration on the drama. The title character, played by Hugh Darrah,  is a solitary teenager, who cannot remember a time when the lighthouse was not his restricting shelter.

On the disused pier which abuts it a solitary semi-automaton fortune-teller (Aamer Raza) also seeks identity answers. As does an old mariner (Peter Barrow) nursing the remains of his pet crow (Lexi Watson-Samuels). But the sea is cruel, and its currents do not always follow human intentions.

The boy’s quest leads him to hot, war-torn countries where answers need to be pieced out of fragments. The fortune-teller also will gain the knowledge – and the peace – which he craves. It is very suitable that the myths of the sea and the distant lands to which it leads are here drawn from many cultures.

Four star rating

The Boy in the Lighthouse runs at the Hostry, Norwich Cathedral until 27 October.

Leave a Comment

Filed under Ballet and dance, Circus & physical theatre, Reviews 2018

Beauty and the Beast

reviewed at the Rhodes Arts Complex on 22 October

Ballet Theatre UK has developed an important niche – bringing classical ballet with fresh choreographic and production values to smaller venues. These are not cut-down versions of the repertoire classics but full-scale dance-dramas in their own right.

Take the latest production, Christopher Moore’s Beauty and the Beast. It’s a familiar story which we know best in its 18th century French origin or through Christmas pantomimes. As with so many well-love “fairy tales”, it also echoes classical myths.

Costume designers Daniel Hope and Val Plant use a Fragonard-derived palette for Beauty and her greedy sisters, while the Beast, the Enchantress and their entourages are burnished in bronze and gold. Martyn Plant’s set is simple – screens consisting of rose-entwined coils of  silver, like the decoration of a Book of Hours.

A chair or a chest are the sole items of furniture and do not distract from the dancing. Moore’s choreography gives his cast opportunities to shine. The dancers respond with neat, precise footwork and jumps as well as the discipline needed to create floor patterns – not that easy to maintain given the variety of venue stages.

Some of the lifts in the performance which I saw looked awkward, and not every tour en l’air finished as cleanly as intended. The story allows for dance-classic and realistic mime with the Enchantress (Ana Caroline Feerer) every bit as imperious as Giselle‘s Myrtha and the Father allocated a pas de seul as well as acting and ensemble opportunities.

As the heroine, Erin Flaherty displays a good technique and conveys the range of emotions demanded by this principled girl, from her hero-worship of and dependence on her Father through her acceptance of the responsibilities forced on her through the theft of the Beast’s rose.

Ben Crossley Pritchard makes the Beast into a truly tormented soul, with his dual royal and animal instincts constantly warring within him. He is a supportive partner with a flair for solo scenes. The pre-recorded choice of music, drawn largely from Dvořák’s suites, fits the story admirably.

This year (2018) Ballet Theatre UK is celebrating ten years of performance. Its young dancers continue to show commitment and a sense of style. They are also cultivating the art of drawing audience’s into the world of classical ballet, with the display never outweighing the art.

Four star rating

Beauty and the Beast tours nationally until 10 February 2019, including the Grove Theatre, Dunstable (28 October), the Theatre Royal, Bury St Edmunds (19-21 November, the Towngate Theatre, Basildon (13 January) and the Broadway Theatre, Peterborough (2 February).

Leave a Comment

Filed under Ballet and dance, Reviews 2018

Cinderella

reviewed at the Theatre Royal, Norwich on 27 February

The essence of a fairy-tale is that it has neither time nor roots to ground it. So Matthew Bourne’s riff on Cinderella takes place not n 16th century Germany, nor early 18th century France, nor even the early 19th century of Rossini’s opera but London during the Blitz.

Bourne and Etta Murfitt keep the basic elements of the story – the daughter turned into a drudge by her father’s second wife and her children, the intervention of a quasi-supernatural force to bring her to the man who will marry her – but translates the family and the price into characters we recognise from the classic iconic films dealing with the Second World War.

Prokofiev’s score has been prerecorded and transformed into surround sound (Paul Groothuis and Brett Morris) as at the cinema. The colour palette used by Lez Brotherston (set and costumes) and by Neil Austin (lighting) and Duncan McLean (projections) is predominantly monochrome.

The cast I saw is led by Ashley Shaw as Cinderella, Liam Mower as the silver-clad Angel who guards and guides her – and will go on once the happy ending is achieved to work magic for another disconsolate soul – and Dominic North as the wounded pilot Harry.

Fine characterisations also come from Dan Wright as the foot-fetish stepbrother and Mark Samaras as his youngest brother. Madelaine Brennan’s Stepmother, drink- and man-obsessed with a protective attitude to her own brood that leads her down increasingly nasty paths, is equally eye-riveting.

Shaw, both as the drudge and the beautiful young woman has the measure of the turns and lifts Bourne gives her which echo the angularities of the score. it is a cast which acts as well as dances, well demonstrated by North, Brennan and Mower. 70-odd years ago is for most of us an era vanished into smoke. But what else is a fairy-tale, even an adult one?

Four and a half-star rating.

Cinderella continues at the Theatre Royal, Norwich until 3 March with matinées on 1 and 3 March.

Leave a Comment

Filed under Ballet and dance, Reviews 2018