Nothing To Say – Leandre: Jacksons Lane, London, 20 January 2017

Socks symbol

Creating a stir with bags of talent. Leandre's Nothing To Say

Creating a stir with bags of talent. Leandre’s Nothing To Say

The London International Mime Festival is one of the most endearing of festivals. The shows are generally short, inventive and full of pleasant surprises and Leandre’s Nothing to Say is the very epitome of this ethos.

Creator and solo performer Leandre Ribera plays a bumbling but ingenious sock-fetishist spending some quality time in the mayhem of his home. It’s a magical place populated by ghosts, three-legged tables and hundreds, possibly thousands, of yellow socks. They’re everywhere, these socks, lurking in drawers, in cupboards and they’re scattered all over the floor. They even get sprayed out into the audience and it’s a pink pair that eventually symbolise his love.

Despite his apparent joie-de-vivre, he’s actually a lonely fellow looking for love and companionship, and his narrow tightrope walk between melancholy and slapstick is beautifully traversed by Ribera. He has a mournful but elastic face and possesses a doleful charm that can turn despondency to hope with the twinkle of an eye.

He’s an old-school clown, really, with an obvious love of Chaplin and surreal whimsy. Nothing makes sense and yet, somehow it does. When he tries to clumsily seduce a young lady with the help of his abandoned reflection, it doesn’t seem odd. Nor does his acceptance that an audience of hundreds seem to have somehow got into his tiny little house. And obviously a doorbell that rings before being pressed is completely normal.

It’s a fun place to be and its great joy lies not only in the well thought out set-pieces but also in the little details; the frustration of fruitlessly trying to grab the cereal packet, for example, or the way boxes fall to the floor whenever the door is closed. The only slight downer for me was the audience-member participation routines that regularly popped up – the fact they’d been so obviously prepped didn’t fit in with the general flow of freedom.

Not to worry though. A show that can generate vociferous cheers when someone manages to throw a sock into a dustbin from no great distance clearly has something going for it. And there’s also the best impersonation of a fish I’ve ever seen. Nothing to Say is, in short, absolutely charming.

Nothing to Say runs at Jackson’s Lane in North London until 22 January 2017. For tickets try the Jacksons Lane website.

Gerard Davis

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Marée Basse – Sacekripa: The Pit, Barbican Centre, London, 17 January 2017

Knife to meet you

No more wining. Sacekripa's Maree Basse could never be accused of being petit-Beaujolais.

No more wining. Sacekripa’s Maree Basse could never be accused of being petit-Beaujolais.

So what happens when you put two drunk variety artists in a cramped room with a couple of bottles of wine and several very sharp knives? Well, not quite the anarchic pandemonium you might expect. Sacekripa’s Marée Basse was far more subtle than that, almost too subtle.

The premise is very simple. Benjamin De Matteïs and Mickaël Le Guen are at home preparing their dinner before settling down to watch their favourite kids TV show. How they accomplish this is anybody’s guess; in their way lie all sorts of unexpected hazards involving things like too-tight waistcoats, irascible corks and flying knives.

At times it’s quite brutal. The characters’ drunkenness is used an excuse for some mock fights that involve gruelling looking tumbling and terrifying knife -throwing. However, for the most part, a cheerfully stroppy churlishness prevails as they indulge in games of one-upmanship over each other.

There’s a wide range of skills on show. The juggling, balancing and sleight of hand are deftly performed – I’m still not entirely sure how the Dairylea triangle gets onto its cracker. De Matteïs and Le Guen also have engaging personalities that bring the audience right into their world and keep us there, forever guessing what might happen next.

And that’s the weird thing. It was a completely compelling show and brilliantly performed but, in all honestly, not something I’d be that interested in seeing again. A big part of its appeal lies in what might happen but a lot of promising ideas are left hanging and in the end you wind up ten pence short of a packet of chips. Still, I’m glad I saw it.

Sacekripa’s Marée Basse runs at The Pit in London’s Barbican Centre as part of the London International Mime Festival until 21 January 2017. Tickets and more info can be found on the Barbican website.

Gerard Davis

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Mary Skeaping’s Giselle – English National Ballet: London Coliseum, 13 January 2017

Debut hat-trick

I couldn't find any pictures from the Xander Parish night of ENB's Giselle so I plumped for this one of the Wilis. It's lovely isn't it?

I couldn’t find any pictures from the Xander Parish night of ENB’s Giselle so I plumped for this one of the Wilis instead. It’s lovely isn’t it?

I watched Mary Skeaping’s Giselle for the first time just a few days ago and came to the conclusion the first act wasn’t terribly exciting (if you’re interested, you can read the full review by clicking on this link). Having watched it again I feel the same and can only put it down to the fact that, apart from a few hops and skips, there’s no dancing at all for about twenty minutes. When it does arrive it’s in the form of a peasant pas de deux which is nothing to write home about.

No matter, really, because the second act is very good and this performance had some fabulous role debuts, chief of which was that of Xander Parish as loverboy Albrecht. He was awesome. Even dressed as a peasant he can’t help looking like a Prince – his bearing and charismatic stage presence speak volumes of his Royal Ballet training and Mariinsky career, and he just bossed proceedings.

He succeeded in making Albrecht a sympathetic character; he seemed so nice that it felt impossible that he’d deliberately cheat on Giselle and he somehow gave the impression that his impending marriage to Bathilde was an unwelcome, perhaps forced, one. The consequence was that his dealings with Giselle were unbearably sad and touching.

And his dancing? His grand jetés simply floated and his footwork dazzled – his solo variation in the final pas de deux was breathtaking. Not only that, he was a great partner who was strong in support and always ready to let Giselle have her moment. A true gent, in other words.

While never having danced in this production before, Parish has played Albrecht elsewhere, notably at the Mariinsky. Lauretta Summerscales had no such luxury – this was her very first Giselle and a fine job she made of it too. She came across as a hopelessly naive girl, overjoyed at the romantic attention offered her, but played it with such natural charm that you revelled in her happiness and suffered at her distress. Her partnership with Parish had real chemistry but she held the stage when left on her own; her delicate dancing superbly reflected her character’s sweet nature

The final debut came from Dutch National Ballet’s Michaela DePrince. Her Myrtha was implacable, impervious to all pleas and utterly focussed on her job of rounding up men; she was quite chilling at times. And her jump! It was impossibly high and apparently indefatigable. She was a joy to watch, though preferably from behind a sofa.

Elsewhere the corps were exemplary again, the character actors believable and the orchestra were assured in their reading of the score. It all made for a very memorable show.

English National Ballet’s run of Mary Skeaping’s Giselle continues at the London Coliseum until 22 January 2017. Tickets can be found on the ENB website.

Gerard Davis

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Mary Skeaping’s Giselle – English National Ballet: London Coliseum, 11 January 2017

If you go down to the woods today

Try as she might, Myrtha never could get herself a dance at the school disco. Lauretta Summerscales in Mary Skeaping's Giselle. Photo by Nigel Norrington

Try as she might, Myrtha never could find herself a partner for Strictly. Lauretta Summerscales in Mary Skeaping’s Giselle. Photo by Nigel Norrington

Anyone familiar with most traditional productions of Giselle may be a little surprised by Mary Skeaping’s 1971 version for English National Ballet. It remains as faithful to the original 1841 French production as possible but with a few later variations also included. The result is basically Giselle as you know it with extra bits; think of it like an extended remix of a song you like.

It’s a handsome enough production (although the men’s costumes look painfully old-fashioned) and there are several pieces of unfamiliar music which, particularly in the second act, give a slightly more menacing feel. There’s also a lot more dancing in the first act, although the jury remains out at the moment as to whether that’s a good thing.

In fact, the first act dragged considerably and the performance felt flat and uninspired. It seemed like the dancers weren’t quite getting the understated nature of the choreography but then what’s a Company to do after several months of performing ultra-modern Akram Khan and then weeks on end of Nutcracker flamboyance? My guess is that by the end of the run the first act will have settled down just dandy.

By contrast, the second act was excellent, mainly due to an outstanding performance by the corps of Wilis. The production serves them well by giving them plenty of hapless men to devour and their movement has an edge to it that raises them above pretty fluttering sylphs. They were brilliantly marshalled by Lauretta Summerscales’ Queen Bitch Myrtha, who looked suitably pissed off when the sun rose, thus preventing her from having her fun with Albrecht.

A bit like the whole show, Alina Cojocaru’s Giselle didn’t really come alive until she was dead but once she did, her partnership with Isaac Hernández’s Albrecht really blossomed. The Adagio of their final pas de deux was beautifully tender and if acting isn’t really Hernández’s strongest attribute, his telescopic legs made up for it in his variation. It was also genuinely moving when their duet ended with his life still in the balance.

I’d like to see this production again to have another go at the first act and, what d’you know? I am. On Friday. When the Mariinsky’s Xander Parish comes to town.

English National Ballet are performing Mary Skeaping’s Giselle at the London Coliseum until 22 January 2017. Tickets can be found on the ENB website.

Gerard Davis

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Nutcracker – English National Ballet: London Coliseum, 15 December 2016

Nut again

There must be some kind of mousetake. Oh, it's fine, it's ENB's Nutcracker. Photo by Arnaud Stephenson

There must be some kind of mousetake. Oh, it’s fine, it’s ENB’s Nutcracker. Photo by Arnaud Stephenson

I’ve reviewed this show several times now and I’d be lying if I said it was my favourite production. Over the past few years however, some ever-improving tweaks have been introduced and tonight’s performance was undoubtedly the best I’ve seen so far. And that’s almost entirely due to the dancing.

At the top-end we had Alina Cojocaru and rising-kid-on-the-block Cesar Corrales as adult Clara and Nephew respectively. Cojocaru was her usual elegant self, a little cool perhaps at times, but full of poise and the most beautiful flow of limbs.

Corrales is an insanely exciting soloist with jumps to pick stars out of the sky with but his partnering needs work – there were moments he was concentrating so hard on his handling of Cojocaru he looked like he was rewiring an atom bomb. He is, however, still young and the necessary equanimity will surely develop with experience.

The National dances were engaging, especially Katja Khaniukova’s kick-ass Chinese, and Lauretta Summerscales made the Mirlitons look good despite the unedifying tangle of sleeves that adorn her outfit.

I wouldn’t normally pick out one of the children for a special mention but I have to say I was impressed with Sophia Mucha’s young Clara. She was a rare case of a student not just doing the steps but she was also acting her role extremely well and clearly feeling the music. She has some outrageous extensions to boot and must be all of about ten years old.

Finally, the corps were outstanding. The precision of the snowflakes bodes extremely well for the Company’s January revival of Mary Skeaping’s traditional production of Giselle.

English National Ballet’s Nutcracker continues at the London Coliseum until 7 January 2017. See the ENB website for more info and tickets.

Gerard Davis

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The Red Shoes – Matthew Bourne: Sadler’s Wells, London, 14 December 2016

Dance the blues

Ah, fame. Ashley Shaw in Matthew Bourne's The Red Shoes. Photo by Tristram Kenton

Ah, fame. Ashley Shaw in Matthew Bourne’s The Red Shoes. Photo by Tristram Kenton

You know how usually a movie doesn’t live up to the book? Well, here’s a case of a dance show that doesn’t live up to the movie. Powell and Pressburger’s 1948 film The Red Shoes has become something of a classic, not just with ballet lovers but also with the likes of silver screen legend Martin Scorsese who’s named it as one of his all-time favourite flicks.

Matthew Bourne’s adaptation certainly has no issues on the visuals front. As usual, long-time collaborator Lez Brotherston has produced stunning sets and beautiful costumes that all evoke a true sense of place and purpose.

How much you enjoy the show (certainly the first half) may well depend on how much you’re willing to let go of ballet orthodoxy. A big part of why the movie is so convincingly told is that Moira Shearer was an excellent ballet dancer – when her character (Victoria Page) famously replies to the question ‘why do you want to dance?’ with the retort ‘why do you want to live?’, you know from her dancing she’s speaking the truth. There’s simply no choreographic equivalent in this show and, although Ashley Shaw is a superb all-round dancer (as she amply demonstrated in the second half), she doesn’t possess enough ballet gravitas to sustain your belief in that part of her life.

Alongside that, Bourne has filled the ballet world she works in with tired clichés of frivolous, knackered old has-been dancers with nothing going on between the ears. The end result of all this is that when Victoria Page loses her marbles because she’s no longer a leading ballerina, it’s hard to see what she’s missing about it all.

Once the perfunctory ballet choreography is out of the way, the second half is much better – it turns into the melodramatic musical-without-words that it probably always wanted to be. Shaw comes into her own here; far more at home in the contemporary choreography that’s representing the real world, she shines in a couple of terrific duets with her on-stage love, Dominic North.

There are good things elsewhere too. As usual, there are plenty of funny gags, numerous references to famous ballets and the closing scene that charts Page’s hallucinatory descent into madness is a brilliant marriage of drama and music and a great way to finish. Above all, the small orchestra playing the mostly Bernard Herrmann score were uniformly outstanding.

Matthew Bourne’s production of The Red Shoes runs at London’s Sadler’s Wells until 29 January 2017. Tickets can be found on the Sadler’s Wells website.

Gerard Davis

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Up & Down – Eifman Ballet of St Petersburg: London Coliseum, 6 December 2016

Now you turn me

Oleg Gabyshev and Lyubov Andreyeva are mad for Boris Eifman's Up & Down.

Oleg Gabyshev and Lyubov Andreyeva are mad for Boris Eifman’s Up & Down.

This ballet has its title round the wrong way – it should be called Down & Up. The reason being that the first half of this tale based on Tender is the Night, F. Scott Fitzgerald’s novel of madness and the emptiness of the American dream, was a real downer while the second was so much perkier.

In truth, the first half was a bit of a mess. Boris Eifman has made a name for himself with his big, bold choreography, full of grand gestures and athletic movement, and there was plenty of that on display here. Where he’s not so consistent, however, is in his storytelling – it was all over the place.

Events happened with no real explanation or motivation and characters were often put on stage with no identification (Nicole’s father, for instance, looked no older than she did). The corps popped up at random moments to dance irrelevant jazz numbers completely at odds with the stark asylum the rest of the act was set in and the look-at-them-aren’t-they-funny attitude towards the mentally ill was questionable at best.

It was a surprise then in the second half when the narrative suddenly became clear as daylight. Freed from having to show the deep psychological insight that the melodramatic choreography couldn’t capture, the relatively simple matter of infidelity and regret proved much more satisfying. Suddenly we understood what the characters were doing, what their place in society was and also their emotions and desires. The corps too were much more integrated into the drama and their glamorous world became an effective foil to messed up loneliness of the main protagonists.

Oleg Gabyshev didn’t have the acting gravitas required to convince as the hapless Dick Diver (Fitzgerald was clearly having a laugh with that one) but as a dancer, and especially as a partner, he was excellent. Likewise for Dmitry Fisher as Nicole’s father; he got nowhere near making him look the monster he was. Far better at living the role was Maria Abashova – she camped it up big time a self-centred  movie star and proved very adept at waving a parasol and a sword around.

Leagues above the rest was Lyubov Andreyeva. Boy, can she move. Whether balletic, contemporary or throwing her lot in with jazz steps she was never less than compelling to watch. The only reason the first half of the show made it to the interval with any credibility was her nuanced portrayal of the wronged Nicole Warren. Her character truly developed and it was a shame that as the work progressed her involvement decreased.

Another genuine highlight was Olga Shaishmelashvili’s costumes. The more opulent the better; the women’s dresses were sexy but elegant and looked great being danced in. Zinovy Margolin’s designs were simple but very good at suggesting time and place. In the end I rather enjoyed Up & Down.

Eifman Ballet of St Petersburg’s Up & Down runs at the London Coliseum until 10 December 2016. Tickets can be found on the ENO website.

Gerard Davis

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