Robot – Blanca Li Dance Company: Barbican Theatre, The Barbican, London, 22 February 2017

Robot ears

Two obljects in this photo aren't real robots. Can you spot them?

Two are two pretend robots in this photo. Can you spot them?

I would liked to have said Blanca Li’s Robot was a case of style over substance but there wasn’t even a great deal of style in it. It was a messy hotch-potch of vignettes that didn’t connect to each other and went on for far too long.

The robots were good. They appeared in many shapes and guises and also supplied the music via a series of Heath Robinson-style contraptions. They also provided the star of the show in the lead NAO robot. NAO is a little chap, about two feet high, who looks humanoid and has the ability to manipulate joints in a convincingly human fashion. He also has a pair of endearingly round eyes and a gently becoming manner.

Sadly he’s also not very good at standing up – he and his four identical cohorts were constantly falling over. At first it just seemed like it was part of the show, a way of demonstrating the fragility of life, but it just kept happening and, frankly, it got annoying. However, when they did stay on their feet, they were entrancing. The scene where NAO no.1 is taken out of his box and treated like a new-born child by one of the dancers was utterly charming.

Which brings me to the eight, very fine dancers who dealt with a bewildering array of styles extremely well and never gave less than absolutely everything. What they were given, however, was not very interesting; plenty of sculptural posturing and manic run-arounds, but rarely anything that related to the mechanical world around them.

It was telling perhaps that their most effective moments were as background fodder to the robots. Li is best-known for her work with Daft Punk and Beyoncé and there was a definite sense here that left to its own devices (which it was, for long periods), the choreography lacked a focal point that only the robots could provide.

Still, Charles Carcopino’s video projections were excellent and any show that has a feather-boa’d NAO robot in a sparkling silver suit singing the whole of Besame Mucho clearly can’t be all bad.

Robot runs at the Barbican until 25 February 2017. Tickets can be found on the Barbican website.

Gerard Davis

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German Cornejo’s Tango Fire – Peacock Theatre, London, 2 February 2017

Smouldering really

Bella Gisela with her fella. Gisela Galeassi and German Cornejo in Tango Fire

Bella Gisela with her fella. Gisela Galeassi and German Cornejo in Tango Fire

It can be easy sometimes to sneer at shows like this that are seen to be peddling tired old cultural clichés. And while it’s true that Tango Fire does nothing to dispel the notion of the macho Latin male and the feisty Latin female, where is it written that it has to? The dance form has survived commercially for over a century now by presenting it thus and choreographer German Cornejo knows whose legs wear the stockings.

Therefore we find ourselves in a nightclub with men in sharp suits and women in sparkly evening gowns split up to the crotch and beyond. The men cavort and peacock themselves about while the women flutter fans and coyly cross their legs with knowing smiles. It’s laughable really but it works, it’s what we expect and, to be honest, when the dancers are as good as this team of ten, a multitude of sins can be forgiven.

The duets are best. The dexterity and speed of the footwork was universally outstanding so the differences between couples came mainly in the choice and execution of the money-shot lifts and drops.

Definitely the best were German Cornejo and Gisela Galeassi who had such a tight understanding of each other’s bodies that they seemed glued to each other whatever outlandish stunt they were pulling. Sebastian Alvarez and Victoria Saudelli pulled off an astonishing series of slip-sliding shoulder-high spins and Marcos Estaban Roberts and Louise Junqueira Malucelli’s second half routine burst out into a splendid legs-akimbo climax. Although the lower-key choreography of the intermittent ensemble routines didn’t hold the same appeal, there was absolutely no questioning the authority of the dancers as a whole.

They were let down a little by the supporting band and singer. While Quarteto Fuego are clearly excellent musicians, their playing lacked life (possibly not helped by a dodgy speaker) and although Jesus Hidalgo’s vocals had a soft, rich tone, he didn’t really inspire either. Never mind, despite a disappointingly weak finale, the dancing pressed all the right buttons.

Tango Fire runs at London’s Peacock Theatre until 18 February 2017. Tickets can be bought on the Sadler’s Wells website.

Gerard Davis

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Kiss & Cry – Charleroi Danses: Barbican Theatre, Barbican Centre, London, 1 February 2017

Digit all

Standing on point. Charleroi Danses' Kiss & Cry

Standing on point. Charleroi Danses’ Kiss & Cry

Kiss & Cry is simply incredible; it’s arguably the most beautiful, inventive, clever and most heart-breakingly melancholic show I’ve ever seen.

It should be a mess really. The stage is full of technical equipment and there are several small scale set models dotted around. In the middle sit a pair of computer boffins ensuring the live feed of the action being filmed is edited seamlessly onto a cinema-size screen at the back. Seven other people dart around in various guises, such as camera operators, prop people, technicians and actors. By rights they should distract hugely from the main focus of what’s being presented on the screen but somehow, they don’t; they’re very welcome participants in the night’s entertainment, especially in the piece’s short but exquisite denouement.

And for the reason for the big screen, the object of our attention? To show the story of Gisèle and the five lost loves of her life using the art of motionless miniature models and, more poignantly, very mobile and expressive hands.

It’s difficult to describe what the resulting handiwork looks like because there’s so much variety in what’s on offer. One moment there could two pairs of hands making love, the next they’re representing two heads poking out the top of a duvet. Another hand spends a leisurely few minutes ice-skating and a different scene has a pair staging a brontosaurus rape. And who would have thought it possible for one hand to so clearly demonstrate the evolution of the human species from sea creature to walking land animal?

The filming of it all is an astonishing achievement of timing and ingenuity and the integration of moving objects and static models is brilliantly judged. All kinds of unusual camera angles and manual special effects are employed and the fact you can witness first-hand how they’re being done somehow adds to the undeniable sense of magic that prevails.

I can’t stress enough how good Kiss & Cry is. For something to be this well-made and performed is remarkable enough. For it to also provide such a moving emotional experience is beyond words to credit.

Kiss & Cry is part of the London International Mime Festival and runs at London’s Barbican Theatre until 4 February 2017. Tickets can be found on the Barbican website. The good news for the rest of the world is that it regularly tours internationally too.

Gerard Davis

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Marzo – Dewey Dell: The Pit, Barbican Centre, London, 25 January 2017

Manga Italiana

Puffing hell, Marzo's strange.

Puffing hell, Marzo’s strange

Well, this is a weird show. At its heart it’s a simple boy meets girl, boy falls in love with girl, girl fancies someone else kind of affair. Only the protagonists are aliens, superheroes and an ageing  Samurai warrior with a gammy leg. Oh, and a bunch of inflatable marshmallow men.

Dewey Dell may be an Italian company but all the ingredients of Marzo are Japanese. In collaboration with visual artist Yuichi Yokoyama and theatre director Kuro Tanino, the end result is a Manga inspired blitz of colour and noise that’s incredibly odd

Although it’s part of the London International Mime Festival Marzo is basically a dance piece and while the choreography is unlikely to take your breath away, its jerky otherworldliness is always interesting. The characterisations are less convincing; the three lead roles are very superficial in their presentation which, because they’re deliberately cartoonish, isn’t a problem in the wam-bam-thankyou-ma’am fight scenes, for example. However, as the piece develops it tries to throw some emotional pathos into the plight of the spurned Samurai warrior but the characters don’t have the tools to exploit it.

Marzo is best when it’s being self-consciously bizarre, and that’s down in no small part to the fabulous costumes. The three marshmallow men are extraordinary – I’m not sure why they’re there but they’re brilliant. Because of the spaciousness of their outfits the material reacts long after the body has moved which creates some startling strobe-like effects and a true sense of an alien environment.

I can honestly say I’ve never seen anything like this before. It’s inventive, funny and disorientating but also warm and respectful of its heritage. I like a show that’s entertained me, even if I don’t quite understand why it has.

Part of the London International Mime Festival, Marzo continues at The Pit in London’s Barbican Centre until 28 January 2017. Tickets are available on the Barbican website.

Gerard Davis

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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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