Clara/Howl – Bern:Ballett: Linbury Studio Theatre, Covent Garden, 27 May 2011

The whole of the Moon – it’s Miller Time!

Bern:Ballett get the giggles in Andrea Miller's 'Howl'.

Poor Clara Wieck. In Cathy Marston’s one act ballet (the first of two UK premieres on tonight’s bill) she’s thrown about between her beau and her father and then has to fend off the persistent attentions of Johannes Brahms. Despite all her drama and effort the dominant character is Erick Guillard’s Robert Schumann; compulsively drawn and offering a real sense of torment, the work loses impetus after his death. Denis Puzanov’s Brahms and Hui-Chen Tsai’s Clara never really looked destined for each other, most of the best choreography had gone by the time Puzanov got going, and the piece petered out with the consequent lack of narrative drive.

Though overlong and unnecessarily stuffed with too many unexplained people, Clara nevertheless had plenty going for it. Marston’s fluent choreography, peppered with elegant shapes and daunting positions (none more so than when the diminuitive Tsai supported Guillard’s entire weight on her lap in an exquisite exercise in balance), worked best in the many duets and trios; captivating when expressing joyful discovery and elation but less eloquent when dealing with breakdown and rejection.

Having the protaganists’ piano works and lieder performed live on the stage worked well (the excellent Sonja Lohmiller on piano and baritone Benoît Capt on vocal duties), contrasting the passionate turmoil of the different composers’ inner feelings directly against the formality of the medium they expressed themselves through was enlightening.

US hotshot choreographer Andrea Miller created the evening’s second work Howl especially for Bern:Ballett and it’s a quite extraordinary reflection on war and mob mentality. With the wings left wide open the stage is turned into a panaromic widescreen epic with what looks like demented sperms swarming about searching for an egg – an image of America trying to recover its macho virility after a succession of deflating wars or a nation retreating back to the womb? Who knows? Who cares? With so many ideas flashing around before your eyes it’s simply a case of sitting back and letting the outrageous ambition simultaneously seduce you and slap you round the face.

Smiley dancers bounce merrily along to Orchestra Bazizza’s giddy Maramao perche sei morto while singing along to the chorus (rather well, actually), bits of Swan Lake loom out, flesh-eating zombie-wolves tuck into each other, bodies are picked up by rows of teeth and an indescribably uncomfortable transformation into an amputee are just some of the weirdness floating around in a breathtaking jamboree of choreography.

The Bern:Ballett artists are not only superb dancers but brave with it. After a sickening clash of heads towards the close of Howl one of the affected dancers continued without missing a beat despite blood gushing down her face from a likely broken nose – insert suffering for your art cliché here. All told, Cathy Marston as Artistic Director is going exciting places with this troupe.

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