Echoes of Eternity – Shanghai Ballet: London Coliseum, 17 August 2016

Maiden Shanghai

'See how pretty this dress is?' Shanghai Ballet make a statement with Echoes of Eternity.

‘See how pretty this dress is?’ Shanghai Ballet make a statement with Echoes of Eternity.

Based on Bai Juyi’s poem The Song of Everlasting Regret about the loving relationship between the 8th century Chinese Emperor Li and his concubine Lady Yang, Shanghai Ballet’s Echoes of Eternity is not without its flaws. It’s far too slow in places, the narrative is not always clear, the eclectic choices of music don’t always suit the drama and there’s an awful lot of repeated choreography. However, taken as a whole, it ain’t too bad.

It has a reassuring tempo built into its structure that lets the thin narrative gently ebb and flow in the manner of a Chinese Opera. Similarly, props are rarely used and the staging is minimal so all attention is tightly focussed on the dancers.

And those dancers are pretty good. Although there’s no great chemistry between them, the regal lovers of Wu Husheng and Qi Bingxue were elegant, graceful and appropriately poised. The male and female corps were forceful and purposeful but best of all was Zhao Hanbing as the unfathomable Moon Fairy. She had a uniquely disconcerting method of movement involving bandy legs, twisted arms and a tilting head that was never less than compelling to watch.

Agnès Letestu’s costumes were another joy to behold. The former Paris Opera Ballet étoile has designed stylish modern-looking garments that also suggest the ancient setting of the story. Furthermore they enhanced the dancers’ movements and added a further feeling of lightness in the loose flapping of sleeves and skirts.

The lighting was soft and sensitive to the tale and there was an all-round feeling of everything working well. It was one of those shows where you came out thinking ‘I enjoyed that.’

Shanghai Ballet’s Echoes of Eternity runs at London’s Coliseum until 21 August 2016 and tickets can be found on the ENO website.

Gerard Davis

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Body.Dance.Nation.City – Ballet National de Marseille: Royal Festival Hall, Southbank Centre, London, 5 August 2016

Anthemic

It's nippy in here. Ballet National de Marseille get used to London summertime in Body.Dance.Nation.City

It’s nippy in here. Ballet National de Marseille try to acclimatise to the London summertime in Body.Dance.Nation.City

The first half an hour or so of Body.Dance.Nation.City was a largely uninspiring bout of contemporary dance. True, the synchronised ensemble work was impressively performed by the 16-strong cast but joint choreographers Emio Greco and Pieter C. Scholten just couldn’t resist the obligatory running-around-in-circles scene, the random shouting bits or even the mercurial face-following-the-hand moment.

Then suddenly the dancers started doing a bit of ballet and things got interesting. Ripping vast chunks of steps from classics such as Swan Lake and Giselle and setting them against music that constantly switched between hip-hop, reggae and Tchaikovsky’s Sleeping Beauty was highly effective. Solos, duets and ensembles jostled for position and the stage was immediately full of unpredictability and possibility.

While the classical dancing was a little too uncontrolled to satisfy the purist, the dancers possessed an edgy attack that gave an exciting purpose to their work. Big bolshy jumps and aggressive spinning showed that these guys looked liked they meant it – if ballet ever resorts to breakdance-style street battles then, no question, Ballet National de Marseille would kick Paris Opera’s arses all day long.

The staging was curious and just the right side of penetrable. Three huge chain curtains formed the walls of the stage and through them you could see dancers in various states of waiting. Masks were a recurring theme and Clifford Portier’s ribbed flesh-coloured body stockings gave an appealing alien quality to the performance.

So, what had started out as a clock-watching kind of night turned out to be a pretty good one in the end.

Ballet National de Marseille’s Body.Dance.Nation.City continues at the Royal Festival Hall in London’s Southbank Centre until 6 August 2016. The Southbank Centre website has the tickets.

Gerard Davis

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Graeme Murphy’s Swan Lake – The Australian Ballet: London Coliseum, 13 July 2016

Cygneture piece

Scott in Graeme Murphy's Swan Lake. Photo by Jeff Busby

Mad as a box of swans. Amber Scott in Graeme Murphy’s Swan Lake. Photo by Jeff Busby

It’s just over 10 years since the The Australian Ballet last came to London’s Coliseum – in 2005 they brought with them Graeme Murphy’s Swan Lake. Now, in 2016, they’ve returned and brought with them, er, Graeme Murphy’s Swan Lake.

A radical retelling of the story is what’s promised and, to be fair, that’s what you get. Odette and Siegfried begin the night getting married only for things to go downhill when she spies her new husband getting cosy with a Baroness at the reception. Odette quickly goes mad and gets carted off to a sanatorium at the end of the first act.

I wasn’t loving it at this point but I was going with the flow and my interest was piqued by patches of Murphy’s athletic choreography. Act II arrives, however, and Odette suddenly thinks she’s a swan with loads of swanny friends. Why is that? Within the realist context of this new narrative there’s no dramatic justification as to why specifically swans should be haunting her mind so consequently there’s no reason to find her wafting around in a pale imitation of Lev Ivanov’s lakeside choreography.

Obviously it’s pretty clear it’s just a figment of the character’s imagination being crow-barred into the Swan Lake franchise. Only, hang on, in the final act it appears the swans are real – Siegfried’s interacting with them in what’s left of the real world. So that’s not confusing at all. Couple that with the notion of two women fighting tooth and nail over a man who’s blatantly proved himself faithless to both of them and it’s really difficult to care about anything that’s going on.

It’s not all bad news. Murphy’s choreography has some inventive lifts and plenty of nice flourishes – Odette scattering her prying wedding guests with a shotgun burst of fouettes was clever, for example. Fluffy-bottomed swan leotards aside Kristian Fredrikson has designed some beautiful Edwardian costumes and the Orchestra of English National Opera under Nicolette Fraillon was excellent.

Fredrikson’s set designs are underwhelming however and, though technically superb, Amber Scott, Adam Bull and Dimity Azoury didn’t really bring the three main characters to life. And to think I’d been so up for it before the curtain rose.

The Australian Ballet’s Swan Lake continues at the London Coliseum until 16 July 2016. Then, from 20 July 2016 they perform Cinderella. Information and tickets can be found on the London Coliseum website.

Gerard Davis

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Cherkaoui/Maliphant/Pita – Natalia Osipova: Sadler’s Wells, 1 July 2016

Try Natalia Try

This photo doesn't need a funny caption. Sergei Polunin and Natalia Osipova in Run Mary Run by Arthur Pita. Photo by Tristram Kenton

This photo really doesn’t need a funny caption. Sergei Polunin and Natalia Osipova in Run Mary Run by Arthur Pita. Photo by Tristram Kenton

Ah, that increasingly trodden path of transition from ballet superstar to contemporary dancer. It’s rarely a successful one but that doesn’t stop people trying and Royal Ballet ballerina extraordinaire Natalia Osipova is the latest to give it a bash.

Three of the world’s highest profile choreographers have been employed to give her a hand with three world premieres but that doesn’t necessarily help. Sidi Larbi Cherkaoui opens the night with a trio called Qutb which mostly involves Osipova and two fellas unwinding their intertwining bodies during some kind of solar eclipse.

While her two cohorts are very familiar with Cherkaoui’s fluid, drifting movement, Osipova comes across as a bit stiff and unusually cautious when it comes to awkward lift changes. That said, her extraordinary ability to stretch her limbs to extremes allows the remarkable strength of Jason Kittelberger to help them forge spectacular new shapes together during a prolonged duet. Unfortunately, the work as a whole was slow, laboured and went nowhere.

Russell Maliphant’s elongated pas de deux Silent Echo was the show’s highlight. Full of cut-off leaps and sharp landings that led to frighteningly quick spins it allowed Osipova to credibly express a different style of movement. Sergei Polunin didn’t fare half so well. Despite his incredible stage presence and the sheer joy of watching him leap into the rafters, the classical vocabulary he entertained just didn’t fit with the subtle tones of everything else in the work.

The big finale was a big let-down. Arthur Pita is usually such a good storyteller but Run Mary Run, a flashback tale of young love in the 60s, was baffling – I’m still not sure if Polunin’s character died from a heroin overdose or from exhaustion while pushing a swing. The funny parts worked the best; the 60s go-go dance was a giggle and the fag and booze duet was a happily wagging finger in the face of political correctness.  Ultimately though, there were too many passages where little happened and there are only so many times you can watch Osipova and Polunin fall ever-so-sweetly in love before starting to feel a little nauseous. At least the 60s girl-band soundtrack was awesome.

Not a great night out all told but Osipova demonstrated she does have potential in the contemporary field, parts of Silent Echo revealed that. And if that thought excites you (and in the long-term, it probably should) this show is not only returning to Sadler’s Wells from 27 September to 1st October 2016 but has also found a home at the Edinburgh Festival Theatre (12-14 August 2016) and will be flying out to New York in time for 10-12 November 2016.

Gerard Davis

Posted in Arthur Pita, Natalia Osipova, Russell Maliphant, Sadler's Wells, Sergei Polunin, Sidi Larbi Cherkaoui | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Triple Bill – L.A. Dance Project: Sadler’s Wells, London, 24 June 2016

Inner votive extinguished

Knee high to a grasshopper. Benjamin Millepied’s Hearts & Arrows. Photo by Christopher Duggan

Knee high to a glasshopper. Benjamin Millepied’s Hearts & Arrows. Photo by Christopher Duggan

Thanks mainly to the involvement of Benjamin Millipied, L.A. Dance Project maintains one of the highest profiles of all American contemporary dance companies. Whether the quality of work on offer justifies that is another matter.

Millipied had two works on show in this Triple Bill (including one world premiere) both of which were, at their absolute best, kind of nice. They’re pretty, intricate and skipped pleasantly along but is that really enough?

Hearts & Arrows and On The Other Side (parts two and three of a trilogy about gem stones sponsored by Van Cleef & Arpels; hmm, that sounds familiar…) were distinguishable from each other mainly because the costumes were cut from different cloths. Otherwise the choreography was an identical blend of flat-footed classical fattened up with cliché-ridden contemporary work (head rolling around someone’s hand, vacant walks into the wings, individuals jogging round in big circles etc).

The ensemble work was well-executed but most of the duets and solos amounted to very little. It was all a bit po-faced and it said something that the best bit was a charming section in On The Other Side led by Laura Bachman where she was finally allowed some joyful expression in both her face and her flighty steps.

On the plus side the choice of music (a string quartet and some piano pieces by Philip Glass) was excellent, Milliped’s musicality exquisite and Mark Bradford’s extravagant backdrop for On The Other Side magnificent.

Definitely better was Sidi Larbi Cherkaoui’s Harbor Me, sandwiched between the two Millipieds. Wreathed in smoke and dripping in Fabiana Piccioli’s great wash of lighting, it looked beautiful. The trio of male dancers that performed it were stylish and highly accomplished. Robbie Moore was particularly good; his fractured jumps and twists were spectacular at times.

As always with Cherkaoui the various bodies were often combined to create fascinating shapes and images; variations on Nijinska’s Les noces‘ head pile-up said hello a few times but the piece could have done without the Marcel Marceau mimed box routine. It was a good work.

However, for a company that sells itself on innovative collaboration, the results of this Triple Bill were surprisingly conservative. Cutting edge it really wasn’t.

L.A. Dance Project’s Triple Bill continues at Sadler’s Wells until 25 June 2016. Tickets can be found on the Sadler’s Wells website.

Gerard Davis

Posted in Benjamin Millipied, LA Dance Project, Sadler's Wells, Sidi Larbi Cherkaoui | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

No Body – Sadler’s Wells Productions: Sadler’s Wells, London, 7 June 2016

They ain’t heavy

Many hands... Michael Hulls examines Lightspace. Photo by Heathcliff O' Malley

Many hands… Michael Hulls examines Lightspace. Photo by Heathcliff O’ Malley

In a welcome break with tradition Sadler’s Wells have given the run of the place to a pair of lighting designers and a composer (the only two choreographers allowed in are confined to making a movie each). No Body could have ended up little more than a glamourised backstage tour but instead it turned out to be something that, at times, was truly wonderful.

The definite highlight, Lightspace, came right at the beginning, courtesy of Michael Hulls. Having presented your ticket you scamper through the stalls and onto the main stage where you encounter ten large chandelier-type things each made up of about 30 naked lightbulbs. They’re hanging at roughly head-height and they pulse slowly on and off in syncopated patterns to the accompaniment of a non-descript ambient soundscape. Hmm. It looks nice but is a bit dull.

But then the chandeliers suddenly lift up into flies, the music cranks up a notch and before you know it you’re being zapped down upon by giant pyramids of light. You’re basically now a performer in a Russell Maliphant show, albeit one giggling with childlike glee at the pretty patterns and sticking your hand through the light beams, just to see what happens.

Once that’s done you’re handed a pair of headphones that put all kinds of atmospheric sounds into your brain and, following a bubble-trail marked on the floor, you wend your merry way around the various installations that lurk in the internal fabric of the theatre.

Nitin Sawhney’s Indelible is a series of massive projections on the foyer walls featuring the many different companies that have performed in the building over the years. It’s kind of interesting but unfortunately comes across as an enormous Sadler’s Wells advertisement rather than a celebration of history.

A day's shoot is always interesting. Siobhan Davies' The Running Tongue

A day’s shoot is always interesting. Siobhan Davies’ The Running Tongue

The Running Tongue is a cleverly made, endlessly running film by Siobhan Davies that holds the interest for about 2 minutes. Russell Maliphant’s Kairos is again beautifully filmed in exquisite detail but the forever unwinding dancers caked in clay don’t hold the attention for long either. Somewhere between these two cinematic outbursts there’s a room that responds to the noises you make – that’s fun.

The other large-scale work comes from Lucy Carter. Hidden has three elements; 1) a wardrobe room jam-packed with costumes and tools of the trade, 2) a look inside the lighting and sound control booths, complete with a bossy voice-over dishing out cues, and 3) something marvellous called Light Store.

Light Store is squeezed into the orchestra pit and requires you to sit on an old wooden chair while an enormous array of lights flash on and off all around you. The patterns they create are so wide ranging you’re forced to physically move your head to see them all. They respond brilliantly to the rising flow of Jules Maxwell’s score, creating the closest thing to dancing in the entire show.

The whole production is called No Body ostensibly because there are no physical dancers performing live. But there are, of course, plenty of bodies on display; that of the audience, and one of the great joys of the whole event is watching, and being part of, how everyone responds to the stimulation being offered. Personally, I had a great time and the Michael Hulls work is undoubtedly one of the best experiences I’ve ever had in a theatre.

No Body runs until 12 June 2016. There are several performance times a day so check the Sadler’s Wells website for start times and tickets.

Gerard Davis

Posted in Lucy Carter, Michael Hulls, Nitin Sawhney, Russell Maliphant, Sadler's Wells, Siobhan Davies | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Swan Lake – English National Ballet: Royal Albert Hall, London, 4 June 2016

Osi-Osi-Osiel, Oy-Oy-Oy

It's ok Alina, I'll take care of you. Osiel Gouneo does the gentlemanly thing. Photo by Laurent Liotardo

It’s ok Alina, I’ll take care of you. Osiel Gouneo does the gentlemanly thing. Photo by Laurent Liotardo

The great thing about Derek Deane’s Swan Lake in-the-round is that although the sheer scale of it is impressive, the story of Odette and Siegfried remains the heart upon which it relies.

Alina Cojocaru began and finished the night as she invariably does; composed, assured and never less than devastatingly accurate in the precision and timing of her steps. But what makes her so compelling as a dancer is not just her extraordinary technique but the artistry she layers above it – she doesn’t so much stand on pointe as float on it and her delicate portrayal of Odette followed suit. Although her Black Swan went strangely awry (it looked like she picked up a painful injury to her foot in the middle of it) she was back in command for the tear-laden finale.

Life is a funny thing sometimes. Cojocaru’s struggles in the 3rd act propelled her Siegfried, Osiel Gouneo, to a different planet. In the earlier acts he’d already proven himself an insanely strong partner with an enormous jump but when he realised her discomfort in the Black Swan pas de deux it was as though he decided to seize the moment for the both of them.

Suddenly (and somehow) he was that bit bit quicker, that much higher, that much more extravagant. He was landing jumps with six ‘o’ clock legs, starting new leaps before you realised he’d finished the first and slowing his    spins        down             to                            a                       pinpoint                                                                           halt.

In short, he was sensational – the Royal Albert Hall is a big old place but he filled it with love.

His performance was the icing on the cake of an excellent show. The English National Ballet Philharmonic gave the dancers the best support possible, James Streeter’s Rothbart was genuinely ominous and the much vaunted 60 swans were magnificent; straight, clean lines and remarkably in-tune arms. On coming out at the end, it really felt like we’d witnessed something remarkable.

English National Ballet’s Swan Lake continues at the Royal Albert Hall until 12 June 2016. Tickets, casting and loads of info can be found on the ENB website.

Gerard Davis

Posted in Alina Cojocaru, English National Ballet, Osiel Gouneo, Royal Albert Hall, Swan Lake | Tagged , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment