The Legend of White Snake – China National Peking Opera Company: Peacock Theatre, London, 14 October 2016

Here I go again

Good golly, nice brolly. China National Peking Opera Company in The Legend of White Snake

Good golly, nice brolly. China National Peking Opera Company in The Legend of White Snake

Xu Xian doesn’t know what he’s letting himself in for when he falls for a beautiful woman he meets by a lake. It turns out she’s actually a 1000 year-old snake-spirit with a penchant for devouring her husbands. Fortunately for him it transpires that she truly loves him but it’s a somewhat hazardous journey involving Divine Mushrooms, Heavenly Guards and power-crazed Buddhist monks to find that out.

The Legend of White Snake is a famous piece of Chinese folklore and China National Peking Opera Company’s adaptation is blindingly good. The singing may an acquired taste to most Western ears but there’s no denying its quality. Far more accessible are the dazzling costumes, the slapstick comedy and, above all, the acrobatics and dancing.

Everything appears choreographed, from the precision in how the characters walk to the delicate use of arms and fingers. And the eyes! The eyes are overwhelming; deeply expressive and absolutely the emotional core of the piece.

Most spectacular are the acrobatics. The tumbling and sword-play is stunning and there are no words available to describe the extraordinary nature of the big battle scene in the second half. Also, if you’ve ever wanted to see someone fall flat on their back like a plank of wood, this is the show for you.

The White Snake character is a consistently ambiguous role but Li Shengsu makes her a highly sympathetic woman caught between her goddess status and her human desires. Liu Lei’s Xu Xian is a bit of a lily-livered sort but he’s a likeable chap despite his numerous frailties.

Best of all is Dai Zhongyu. She plays Green Snake, the hot-headed sister of White Snake, and not only does she act brilliantly and sing magnificently but she’s also an astonishing acrobat and dancer. In one incredible scene she’s juggling and kicking away three-foot long lances being thrown at her from around the stage. Volleys, back-heels, overhead kicks – Lionel Messi has nothing on this lady.

I absolutely loved The Legend of White Snake. It’s just so precise, well-performed and goddamn entertaining. Hao!

China National Peking Opera Company are at the Peacock Theatre in London until 15 October 2016. Tickets for The Legend of White Snake and also for The General and the Prime Minister are available on the Peacock Theatre website.

Gerard Davis

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The Tempest – Birmingham Royal Ballet: Sadler’s Wells, London, 13 October 2016

Storming the balletcades

Snail Male. Tyrone Singleton in BRB's The Tempest. Photo by Bill Cooper.

Snail Male. Tyrone Singleton in BRB’s The Tempest. Photo by Bill Cooper.

There are three quite separate things going on in David Bintley’s new creation for Birmingham Royal Ballet, William Shakespeare’s The Tempest.

Firstly there’s the story. It didn’t make much sense to me. Important moments are hurried and crucial characterisations are muddy; Caliban and his gang, for instance, aren’t threatening at all (despite Tyrone Singleton’s brilliantly wiry Caliban), they just look like a group of nice but dim lads out on a stag night.

That didn’t particularly matter however because the second major thing is the choreography. As traditional as new ballet gets Bintley’s even included the time-honoured sight of the two leads deeply in love and sitting watching a series of dances prepared especially for them at a pre-nuptial party. This was fine though because there was some lovely stuff in there; Ferdinand and Miranda’s pas de deux at the end of the first act was beautifully performed by Joseph Caley and Jenna Roberts, Lachlan Monaghan’s leaps and spins as Neptune were sensational and it was just a joy to watch Céline Gittens lock herself into her arabesques as Ceres.

It was the third element that really let things down; Sally Beamish’s score. Apart from a lovely waltz in the first act and an exciting few minutes to finish the whole work, the music was off doing its own thing – mostly the sort of noodly thing reserved for a very small audience on Radio 3 at two in the morning. It primarily served to deaden the atmosphere in the auditorium and meant the dancers were constantly fighting against it rather than working with it.

Nevertheless, there’s plenty else to admire in this Tempest. Rae Smith’s sets are decent (especially the golden ship at the end), most of the costumes are excellent (the outfits for Neptune’s fishy friends are up for debate, mind) and the puppet of baby Miranda was absolutely wonderful. Also, I never realised until this evening how much I wanted a shining floating chair in the shape of a peacock.

The Tempest runs at Sadler’s Wells until 15 October 2016 before continuing on a UK tour. Tickets for the whole tour can be found on the Birmingham Royal Ballet website.

Gerard Davis

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Wink/The Moor’s Pavane/The Shakespeare Suite – Birmingham Royal Ballet: Sadler’s Wells, 10 October 2016

Willing it on

'No, really, I can look after my own scarf, thank you.' Desdemona should have listened to the voices in her head in Jose Limon's The Moor's Pavane. Photo by Andrew Ross

‘No, really, I can look after my own scarf thank you.’ Desdemona tries to stick to her guns in Jose Limon’s The Moor’s Pavane. Photo by Andrew Ross

It’s right that the greatest ever Brummie, William Shakespeare, should have his legacy celebrated by Birmingham Royal Ballet. Whether this Triple Bill was the best way to do it remains to be seen.

Jessica Lang’s Wink was up first. Read aloud by Alfie Jones, five of Shakespeare’s sonnets form the backbone of the work, interspersed with music by Jakub Ciupinski. The end result is nowhere near as interesting as it should be.

Peter Teigen’s rust-coloured lighting has a beautiful autumnal feel and the costumes a fresh, modern look that flatters the dancers’ bodies. The big drawback is that Lang’s choreography is rather bland; perfectly pretty but indistinct and heading nowhere. Brandon Lawrence stood out for his elegant and unhurried manner but quite what the small revolving panels that lined the stage were for is anyone’s guess.

Created in 1949, José Limón’s The Moor’s Pavane shows its age but retains plenty of interest; its steady pacing and slow unfurling of the Othello narrative wins over any initial misgivings with the highly stylised posturing. Placing it within the formalism of Renaissance dancing and focussing heavily on individual characterisations helps give it an hypnotic appeal that reaches out beyond mere historical references. Tyrone Singleton, Delia Mathews, Iain Mackay and Samara Downs all gave the piece a satisfying emotional resonance.

Poor old Desdemona finds herself having to die all over again in David Bintley’s The Shakespeare Suite. Her cold-blooded murder at the hands of Tyrone Singleton’s impressively callous Othello is repeated with far more shocking brutality here, something quite at odds with the joie de vivre of the rest of the piece.

The jazz of Duke Ellington and Billy Strayhorn rings out wonderfully from the instruments of Colin Towns’ Mask Orchestra while a number of Shakespeare’s characters get their turn to ham things up in the spotlight, mainly for laughs. Inevitably some come out better than others – the view that what women really want is to be bullied by their spouse just isn’t funny, even under the guise of The Taming of the Shrew – but for the most part The Shakespeare Suite is good fun.

Céline Gittens and her long, long legs worked wonders as Lady Macbeth, Kit Holder and Momoko Hirata made a charming Bottom and Titania respectively and Mathias Dingman was an unexpectedly sprightly Hamlet. The last movement where everyone came together in a rush of sweeping legs was a great watch and finished the night on a welcome high.

Birmingham Royal Ballet’s Triple Bill continues at Sadler’s Wells until 11 October 2016. Tickets can be found on the Sadler’s Wells website, as can those for David Bintley’s newest creation The Tempest which runs from 13 – 15 October 2016.

Gerard Davis

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iD – Cirque Éloize: Peacock Theatre, London, 21 September 2016

Oops upside your head

Flippin' good. Cirque Eloize in iD. Photo by Valerie Remise

Flippin’ good. Cirque Eloize in iD. Photo by Valerie Remise

As with just about any modern circus show, iD features certain key disciplines. Aerial Hoop? Check. Chinese Pole? Check. Hand Balancing? Check. There are however several things that make Montreal-based Cirque Éloize stand out from the super-slick Big Top crowd:

  1. They’re bloody good at what they do. Without exception. Well, the judgement’s out on Jon Larrucea’s in-line skating but that’s purely because he wasn’t given much of a chance in the spotlight. Jean-Philippe Deltell on the other hand had plenty of time to make an impression and he took it with both arms swinging – his stunning juggling was imaginatively choreographed and perfectly executed.
  2. There were some creative additions to the usual acts. Thibaut Philippe skipping was something I won’t forget in a hurry. He was on his bike at the time.
  3. There was some excellent hip-hop on display from just about everyone.
  4. The finale was mind-bendingly brilliant. I’ve never heard of a Trampowall before but I really want one at the bottom of my block of flats – it’ll make it so much easier to get to my front door on the second floor.
  5. The energy of the cast was magnificent, as was their charisma and delivery.

iD had its flaws – the second half didn’t quite live up to the excitement of the first and the constant tough-guy posturing was crass – but this was a hugely entertaining show performed with extraordinary quality. So glad I went.

iD runs at the Peacock Theatre until Saturday 8 October 2016. The best place to get tickets is the Sadler’s Wells website.

Gerard Davis

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Open Door/Piazzolla Caldera/Revelations – Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater: Sadler’s Wells, London, 7 September 2016

Latin Americans

'Hey, you there! Get dancing!' It's futile to resist the contagious charm of the Alvin Ailey company. Photo by Andrea Mohin

‘Hey, you there! Get dancing!’ It’s futile to resist the contagious charm of the Alvin Ailey company. Photo of Open Door by Andrea Mohin

More than a touch of Latin flair filled two-thirds of Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater’s 2nd Programme in their 2016 Sadler’s Wells residency.

Ronald K. Brown’s brilliant Open Door was first up. From a plaintive little jazz piano track the music slowly climaxed into a full-blown Afro-Latin freak-out that had the dancers spinning and seamlessly reeling out their laconic swing. Their sense of rhythm and understanding of the music was extraordinary, the feeling of joy they exuded was palpable. This was a truly wonderful celebration of the art of dancing.

Piazzolla Caldera is choreographed by American legend Paul Taylor and was first performed by Ailey’s Company in 2015. While they’re clearly still settling in to its intriguing mix of tango with contemporary dance this was still a great watch. The fluid elegance of tango wasn’t always present but was replaced by an appealing sleaziness that peaked in the superb drunken fight/love match between Daniel Harder and Michael Francis McBride. That was swiftly followed by a duet of remarkable lifts by Jamar Roberts and Rachael McLaren, all of which was bookended by a dazzling array of spins and leaps from the rest of the company. Again, the physical reading of Piazzolla’s music was impeccable.

As is the Ailey’s dancers’ lot, their evening (as does every Ailey evening apparently) finished with the beyond-iconic Revelations. It was full of great performances; in her Fix Me, Jesus duet with Collin Heyward, Ghrai DeVore showed formidable control in her extensions and attitudes, Vernard J. Gilmore did likewise in his I Wanna Be Ready solo and Jeroboam Bozeman, Jermaine Terry and Chalvar Monteiro were simply thrilling in the Sinner Man segment.

Whisper it quietly, though, I personally found Revelations didn’t touch me in the same way Open Door and Piazzolla Caldera had. Despite its tremendous historical importance, the Praise-The-Lord soundtrack left me cold and the showpiece finale just didn’t get the blood pumping. Everyone else in the theatre went crazy however.

If you can, go watch Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater while they’re on this extensive UK tour (which includes places such as Birmingham, Plymouth, Cardiff, Edinburgh and more) – they’re a company that will fill you with happiness. They’re performing three different programmes at Sadler’s Wells until 17 September 2016 before embarking on the rest of their UK tour. For a full list of venues and dates see

Gerard Davis

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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


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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