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 AlvinAiley.org

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

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

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