Review: Casanova, Leeds Grand Theatre & touring

DANCE

CASANOVA

LEEDS GRAND THEATRE

 

Reviewed by Mark Brown

 

Casanova#2
Photo: Justin Slee

The name of Giacomo Casanova has, since his death in 1798, been a byword for sexual debauchery. Yet the author of History of My Life, who was born in the Republic of Venice and died in Bohemia some 73 years later, lived a life that was almost as eventful as the tumultuous 18th-century itself.

He was (somewhat implausibly) a trainee priest; although, almost inevitably, he found himself debarred from the priesthood for having sex with nuns. Consorting with liberal clergy and aristocrats, his interest in Enlightenment thinking combined with his sexual libertinism to make him a target of the Inquisition.

There is something almost hubristic in the attempt by Kenneth Tindall and Northern Ballet to condense Casanova’s legendary life into less than two hours of dance. However, as the ecstatic first night audience for this world première attests, Tindall’s ambition is richly rewarded.

Unlike other works by Northern Ballet (such as their excellent adaptation of George Orwell’s 1984), Casanova’s adventures (which are drawn from Ian Kelly’s acclaimed biography) do not give themselves easily to a clearly defined narrative. What we get instead are selected episodes, ranging from a Venetian masquerade to Casanova’s imprisonment by the Inquisition and his cruel humiliation at the hands of his Enlightenment idol Voltaire.

Casanova#3
Photo: Justin Slee

Tindall’s choreography is impressively attuned to the ecstasies and agonies of the protagonist’s remarkable life. His sexuality (which was ambidextrous and, at times, orgiastic) is expressed with both a tremendously bold muscularity and an unerring sense of style.

Casanova is danced, appropriately enough, by his compatriot (and longstanding Northern Ballet performer) Giuliano Contadini. It is a towering performance which is as affecting in its bitter yielding to repression as in its moments of euphoric sensuality.

Contadini’s dancing expresses brilliantly the scale and excitement of Casanova’s life. So, too, do Christopher Oram’s set and costume designs. Often dominated by grand, neo-classical pillars which, courtesy of Alastair West’s exceptional lighting designs, shine in an extraordinary orange-gold, Oram’s sets are both improbably versatile and suitably epic.

Kerry Muzzey’s score also has a touch of the epic about it. Positively cinematic, its unapologetic drama and pathos remind us that the great narrative scores of Hollywood are rooted in European orchestral traditions.

Entirely worthy of its first night standing ovation, Casanova is an impressive and exhilarating evening’s ballet.

 Touring until May 13. northernballet.com

This review was originally published on the website of the Daily Telegraph on March 12, 2017

http://www.telegraph.co.uk/dance/what-to-see/casanova-leeds-grand-theatre-world-premiere-review-impressive/

© Mark Brown

Review: Lady Macbeth: Unsex Me Here, touring

DANCE

 

Lady Macbeth: Unsex Me Here

Seen at Tron, Glasgow;

touring until November 19

 

Reviewed by Mark Brown

lady-m-company-chordelia
Photo: Susan Hay

I have long thought that the words and deeds of Lady Macbeth, rather than the witches’ prophecy, are central to the events of Shakespeare’s “Scottish play”. In their new dance-theatre piece Lady Macbeth: Unsex Me Here, Glasgow-based groups Company Chordelia and Solar Bear seem to share that sense of the female protagonist’s special position in the play.

Director Kally Lloyd Jones explores the character through choreographies for three male dancers. In doing so, she goes further than a theatre director might in casting a male actor as Lady M.

The three dancers are, for the most part, three-in-one (an Unholy Trinity, if you will). They do not represent an attempt by Lady M to merely transform herself into an image of unfeeling, violent machismo. Rather, their masculinity allows them to approach the moral ambiguities of her stated desire to be “unsexed” from a series of fascinating angles.

Lady M has, famously, been a mother and lost the child (“I have given suck, and know. How tender ’tis to love the babe that milks me”). Here, the dancers nurse little bundles that appear to be babies. Their rocking motion becomes a motif, repetitive and frenzied, akin, in the queen’s moments of greatest mental distress, to her constant cleaning of her hands.

We hear Lady M’s loaded assertion that, when he dared kill the king, Macbeth was, “so much more the man”; a powerful reminder of the role of her sexuality in inciting the regicide.

The visual aesthetic of the piece – dark, simple with the dancers emerging from three little alcoves in which they have been preparing at dressing tables – is exquisite. The music, by the likes of Ravel, Verdi and Mozart is beautifully attuned to the piece’s journey into one of Shakespeare’s most complex female characters.

For tour dates, visit: chordelia.co.uk

This review was originally published in the Sunday Herald on November 6, 2016

© Mark Brown

Review: Richard Alston Dance Company (Autumn 2016), Festival Theatre, Edinburgh

DANCE REVIEW

 

Richard Alston Dance Company

Seen at Festival Theatre, Edinburgh

At Theatre Royal, Glasgow, November 3

 

Reviewed by Mark Brown

alston-an-italian-in-madrid
Vidya Patel and Liam Riddick in An Italian in Madrid. Photo: Foteini Christofilopoulou

This autumn tour by the Richard Alston Dance Company can only enhance the group’s reputation for contemporary dance that is simultaneously stylish, virtuosic and diverse. It is comprised of seven short pieces, four of which were presented at Edinburgh’s Festival Theatre.

An Italian In Madrid is testament to an admirable gentility in Alston’s work. A narrative choreography about the lives of the Neapolitan composer Domenico Scarlatti and his student, the Portuguese princess Maria Barbara, it seems more like the stuff of classical ballet than of contemporary dance.

Given the pressure on choreographers to be “cutting edge” and “controversial”, there is something almost daring in Alston’s choice of such refined subject matter. The keyboard sonatas the Italian composer wrote for his royal pupil (which are played live by the splendid pianist Jason Ridgway) are undeniably Baroque, yet also infused with the unmistakeable passion of the Andalusian music Scarlatti encountered in Spain.

As we witness the princess’s romantic encounters with her betrothed, the Spanish prince Fernando, the music proves particularly well-suited to Alston’s graceful duets and charming solos.

The company’s programme in Glasgow (on November 3) will be somewhat different from that presented in Edinburgh. However, there are two pieces from the Festival Theatre performance, namely Alston’s Mazur and Stronghold, by the company’s associate choreographer Martin Lawrance, that will also be seen on Clydeside.

Mazur, which takes as its subject Chopin’s anguished exile from Poland, is built around expressive solos and pas de deux which reflect the solidarity of the composer and a fellow refugee.

Stronghold is a stripped back, minimalist work for five female and five male dancers. Danced to Julia Wolfe’s music (for eight double basses) of the same name, it is as invigorating in its creative use of light and shadow as it is in its energetic, well-ordered choreography.

This review was originally published in the Sunday Herald on October 2, 2016

© Mark Brown

Review: 5 Soldiers, Tramway, Glasgow

DANCE REVIEW

 

5 Soldiers

Seen at Tramway, Glasgow

Touring until May 28

 

Reviewed by Mark Brown

5 Soldiers
5 Soldiers. Photo: Bettina Strenske

As anyone who has seen the National Theatre of Scotland’s show Black Watch will tell you, the drills, routines and battle action of soldiers contain an inherent choreography. One of the most noted elements of the production, which is based on the stories of former Scottish soldiers who served in Iraq, is the choreography of Steven Hoggett.

There are shades of Black Watch in 5 Soldiers, the latest piece by Rosie Kay Dance Company. As with Hoggett, there is in choreographer and director Kay’s piece, a heavy reliance upon the regimented movement and repetitiveness of army training.

That said, 5 Soldiers goes beyond the “dancing squaddies” stereotypes and overly literal representations that characterise many of Black Watch’s over-hyped movement sequences. Kay introduces choreographic innovations which have genuinely emotional and psychological, rather than merely physical, implications.

Recorded sound (such as BBC radio reports of battleground casualties in Afghanistan) and projected images (for example, footage of the passing landscape taken from inside an army helicopter) provide the piece with both context and atmosphere.

Fascinatingly, however, the dance is at its most effective when it strays furthest from military routine. The scene in which the four male soldiers interact with a young woman they encounter on a night out is a memorable and affecting reflection on distorted gender relations.

The sole female dancer, Shelley Eva Haden, offers excellent representations of both female soldiers and the civilian women who find themselves in the lives of army men; whether that be for just an evening or a significant part of their lives.

Making dance based on army life always carries the risk of predictability, and 5 Soldiers, like Black Watch before it, succumbs to that risk at times. However, when Kay digs beneath the surface, her piece has an undeniable impact.

For tour dates, visit: 5soldiers.co.uk

This review was originally published in the Sunday Herald on May 8, 2016

© Mark Brown

Review: Snow White, Festival Theatre, Edinburgh

DANCE

 

Snow White

Seen at Festival Theatre, Edinburgh;

playing Pitlochry Festival Theatre,

February 26 & 27

 

Review by Mark Brown

 

SNOW WHITE_BalletLORENT,DANCERS; Gwen Berwick, Akeim Toussaint Buck, Gavin Coward, Toby Fitzgibbons, John Kendall, Caroline Reece, Ray Roa, Juliet Thompson, Natalie Trewinnard, Philippa White, Giulia Coti Zelati,
Caroline Reece (Queen) and Natalie Trewinnard (Snow White). Photo: Bill Cooper

The New Year brings to Scotland two touring productions from ballet companies in the north of England. No sooner will Newcastle-based Ballet Lorent’s Snow White have visited Edinburgh and Pitlochry than Northern Ballet will bring its version of George Orwell’s 1984 to Edinburgh’s Festival Theatre (March 31 to April 2).

I had the good fortune to catch 1984 when it opened in Leeds last autumn and I can recommend it highly. Memorably original, it is a work of brave, bold narrative ballet.

Sadly, Ballet Lorent’s take on the fairytale of Snow White (which played in Edinburgh last weekend) cannot be recommended with quite as much enthusiasm. This despite the involvement of poet laureate Carol Ann Duffy (who has written a crisp and dryly comic new version of the story) and superb actor Lindsay Duncan (whose recorded voice narrates the tale).

There are, it should be said, numerous admirable elements in the piece. The stark and bleak visual aesthetic is the perfect partner to Duffy’s text and Murray Gold’s stylishly cinematic musical score. All three combine to give the piece a darker, classier look than you will find in Disney’s famous animated film.

The design combines best with Liv Lorent’s choreography in the scenes involving the miners. Bent and broken from their labours in the hellish mine beneath the Queen’s castle, they swarm around Snow White on ingenious implements fashioned from wooden walking sticks, but which double as pickaxes.

However, despite such fine elements, the production somehow contrives to underwhelm. Lovely though Duffy’s version of the tale is, Duncan’s fine narration rarely connects with a choreography that is very often too modest for the Festival Theatre stage.

There are simply no great set piece dances in the show; unless you count the Huntsman’s clumsy pas de deux with Snow White’s corpse, which looks disquietingly, and unintentionally, necrophiliac.

The involvement of a supporting ensemble of 12 local schoolchildren is charming and commendable. One only wishes they were involved in a more accomplished, more robust production.

A slightly truncated version of this review was originally published in the Sunday Herald on January 31, 2016

© Mark Brown

Review: Cinderella, by Scottish Ballet (Sunday Herald)

DANCE REVIEW

 

CINDERELLA

Festival Theatre, Edinburgh

Until December 31;

then touring until January 30

 

Reviewed by Mark Brown

 

Cinderella SB
Eve Mutso and Sophie Martin as the Ugly Sisters. Photo: Andy Ross

 

Poor Cinders! Not only has her mother died an untimely death and her hapless father allowed his new wife to make a domestic slave of her, but the handsome prince has dropped her mid-pas de deux.

So it was on the opening night of Scottish Ballet’s new Christmas show. Thankfully, however, Bethany Kingsley-Garner, who danced Cinderella excellently throughout, recovered splendidly from the momentary lapse of concentration of the unfortunate Prince (Christopher Harrison).

Indeed, Ms Kingsley-Garner’s skill and grace epitomised this European premiere of Christopher Hampson’s rendering of Prokofiev’s famous ballet. First staged by the Royal New Zealand Ballet in 2007, Hampson’s choreography for the great fairytale is charming, intelligent and innovative.

In a world of beauty – in which everything, from the rose moon to the enchanted garden and the splendid royal ball, is a visual delight – Cinderella’s Stepmother (Sophie Laplane) and Stepsisters (Eve Mutso and Sophie Martin) provide a bleak and comic contrast. Laplane is decidedly witch-like as she callously directs a servant to take down a portrait of Cinders’s late mother.

For their parts, the Stepsisters are so hideously gaudy and clumsy that they seem almost to have been borrowed from a pantomime version of the story. Mutso and Martin show exceptional balletic skill as their oafish characters attempt to impress the assembled gentry with their disastrous dance moves.

Scottish audiences can be thankful that Hampson has kept his ballet’s original set and costume designs by New Zealand designer Tracy Grant Lord. As stylish and full of contrasts as the choreography, they are particularly memorable in their casting of the Fairy Godmother (Araminta Wraith) as a magical Earth Mother in charge of beautifully costumed garden creatures.

Delicate, sumptuous and, where required, hilariously uncouth, this Cinderella seems set to be another festive hit for Scottish Ballet.

For tour details visit: scottishballet.co.uk

This review was originally published in the Sunday Herald on December 13, 2015

© Mark Brown

Review: Cinderella, by Scottish Ballet (Daily Telegraph)

DANCE

CINDERELLA

FESTIVAL THEATRE, EDINBURGH

Reviewed by Mark Brown

Scottish Ballet Cinderella
Photo: Livepix/Kenny Mathieson

 

Picture the scene. The party at the Prince’s palace is in full swing when Cinderella’s ghastly and garish step-sisters arrive. Wearing lurid, preposterously elaborate dresses, they demand to be the centre of attention.

Pawing at the terrified male guests, the dreadful duo proceed with the most ungainly of dances. Underwear is inadvertently flashed, attempts at elegance end, ignominiously, on the floor, and pairings become solos as the unfortunate men make their desperate escapes.

We expect such bold comedy of the traditional British pantomime. However, there is something particularly delightful in seeing it on the ballet stage, as we do in this European premiere of Christopher Hampson’s version of Prokofiev’s Cinderella.

There are, in the performances of principal dancers Eve Mutso and Sophie Martin, who play the sisters, shades of the hilarious, parodic choreographies of Les Ballets Trockadero de Monte Carlo. Like the Trocks, there is an admirable skill involved in Mutso and Martin dancing against their classical training. The pair prove the paradox, one has to be an excellent dancer to dance this badly.

The tremendous silliness of the piece is all the more effective for its contrast with the show’s predominant imagination and style. Hampson’s ballet was critically acclaimed when it was first staged, by the Royal New Zealand Ballet, in Wellington in 2007, and this Scottish revival is blessed with the superb original sets and costumes by New Zealand designer Tracy Grant Lord.

Grant Lord’s emphasis of the connection between magic and nature is a particular pleasure. The scene in the garden, where the fairy godmother bestows her gifts upon Cinderella, is resplendent with living roses, lilac and pink butterflies and a splendidly costumed grasshopper.

The show is also peppered with audacious detours from classical norms. Act Three, for example, begins with hardworking cobblers toiling in a dark workshop until they transform into silk moths. It is a scene which owes more to the visual imagination of the contemporary avant-garde theatres of eastern and central Europe than to traditional ballet.

At Festival Theatre, Edinburgh until December 31, then touring until January 30. For further details, visit: scottishballet.co.uk

This review was originally published in the Daily Telegraph on December 7, 2015

http://www.telegraph.co.uk/dance/what-to-see/scottish-ballets-cinderella-festival-theatre-edinburgh-review-fl/

© Mark Brown