Review: Royal Ballet gala, Hull New Theatre

DANCE

 

ROYAL BALLET GALA PERFORMANCE

HULL NEW THEATRE

Reviewed by Mark Brown

Royal Ballet in Hull
Steven McRae and Elizabeth Harrod perform The Two Pigeons. Photo: Coris/Getty Images

With Hull’s successful UK City of Culture 2017 programme in full swing, how better to herald the reopening of the New Theatre (following a splendid, £16 million refurbishment) than with a star-studded gala performance by the Royal Ballet? A packed house of 1,200 people inside the theatre were joined by another 5,000 watching a relayed film screening in Hull’s Queens Gardens, making the performance a genuinely historic cultural event for the city.

In a nice touch, the organisers arranged for the film relay to be put on a 30-minute delay. This gave the dancers time after the show to make their way to the Gardens and take their bows before the audience watching on the big screen.

The match-up between the world-renowned ballet company and Hull’s year-long celebration of the arts is rooted in the city’s considerable contribution to dance. Kevin O’Hare, director of the Royal Ballet, was born in Hull and made a number of his early performances, as a young boy, on the New Theatre stage.

Early in this incredibly diverse programme of 17 short pieces, O’Hare came on stage to speak about the importance of the city to him, to his company and to the world of dance. Not only did the director’s offering include three Royal Ballet dancers past and present (namely, Elizabeth Harrod, Demelza Parish and, her brother, Xander Parish) who are from Humberside, it also starred guest artist Joseph Caley (currently principal dancer with English National Ballet) who was born in Hull.

Indeed, Caley’s performance of David Bintley’s Hamlet solo from The Shakespeare Suite was one of the highlights of the evening. A jazzy choreography, mixing playfulness and melancholy, danced to music by Duke Ellington and Billy Strayhorn, it was executed with a delightfully paradoxical combination of expressive individualism and faithful exactitude.

The mixed programme presented perfectly pitched tasters from such choreographic greats as Marius Petipa and Lev Ivanov, William Forsythe, and Kenneth MacMillan. The audience very much appreciated the inclusion in the show of the dancers (some of them very young indeed) of the Hull-based Northern Academy of Performing Arts and two other local dance schools.

If there was a stand out among this startlingly varied programme it was, surely, the pas de deux from Wayne McGregor‘s Qualia. A modernist piece, danced to intense music by experimental composer Robin David Rimbaud (aka Scanner), it was performed with extraordinary muscularity and eroticism by Melissa Hamilton and Edward Watson.

By the time the show closed, with a gorgeous Petipa pas de deux by local hero Caley and the immense Akane Takada, the audience were out of their beautifully re-upholstered seats and cheering this memorable gala to the rafters.

For details of the Hull City of Culture programme, visit: hull2017.co.uk

This review was originally published on the website of the Daily Telegraph on September 17, 2017

http://www.telegraph.co.uk/dance/what-to-see/royal-ballet-reopens-hull-new-theatre-gala-performance-remember/

© Mark Brown

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Review: Nederlands Dans Theater, Edinburgh International Festival 2017

DANCE

 

NEDERLANDS DANS THEATER

PLAYHOUSE, EDINBURGH

Reviewed by Mark Brown

NDT 2017
Roger Van der Poel and Marne van Opstal in The missing door by Gabriela Carrizo. Photo: Robbie Jack/Corbis

Every now and again one encounters a dance show of such visual originality, such technical brilliance and such emotional potency than one feels that one has almost witnessed the reinvention of the art form. So it is with this extraordinary trio of works by Nederlands Dans Theater.

In Shoot the Moon, human figures face themselves, each other and the world from within three, revolving rooms. An elegant couple dances a modern pas de deux full of uncertainty, tension and mutual, erotic understanding. A man, stripped to the waist, struggles in solitude, watched through the window by a woman.

The rooms seem like time-worn, melancholy evocations of those painted by Danish master Vilhelm Hammershøi. Performed to moving music by Philip Glass, and choreographed by Sol León and Paul Lightfoot, the piece combines an enthralling intimacy with a resonating sense of the precariousness of our times.

The second piece (the finest of the three) is entitled The missing door, but might carry the moniker Hotel Kafka. Played to a premonitory soundscape, it combines the atmosphere of the Bohemian author’s bleakly comic prose with the surreal imagery of René Magritte. It is, consequently, humorous and disquieting by turns.

Here, untimely death is as pointless as in Kafka, and as cartoonish as in a Coen Brothers’ movie. With its apparently liquifying walls and human bodies moving spasmodically in response to stuck, electronic sound, choreographer Gabriela Carrizo’s piece is so innovative and affecting that it would have been worthy of the great Pina Bausch herself.

The final work of the trilogy, Stop-Motion, is another piece by León and Lightfoot, and features an exceptional, slow motion, black and white video featuring the choreographers’ strikingly beautiful daughter, Saura. As the young woman revolves gradually on the huge screen, she appears like a figure from a Gerhard Richter painting, animated by video artist Bill Viola. Performed to the plaintive music of Max Richter, its richly employed video work includes a man falling, slowly through water, much like Viola’s famous Christ.

The choreography itself is achingly beautiful, reflecting the sadness, anguish and human resilience in both the music and the video images.

As in its companion pieces, the movement is executed with perfect precision and expression by a breathtakingly accomplished group of dancers. Once again, NDT reasserts its position as one of world dance’s truly great companies.

Until August 23. Tickets: http://www.eif.co.uk

A slightly abridged version of this review was originally published on the website of the Daily Telegraph on August 22, 2017

http://www.telegraph.co.uk/dance/what-to-see/nederlands-dans-theater-reinvents-art-form-playhouse-edinburgh/

© Mark Brown

 

 

Review: Available Light, Palace Theatre, Manchester

DANCE

AVAILABLE LIGHT

PALACE THEATRE, MANCHESTER

 

Reviewed by Mark Brown

Available Light
Available Light. Photo: Joel Chester Fildes

Since it was established in 2005, the Manchester International Festival has claimed its own distinct and valued place in the global arts festival circuit. The programming of Available Light, a dance work of genuinely world historic significance, speaks to the Festival’s burgeoning stature.

First staged, at the opening of the Museum of Contemporary Art in Los Angeles, in 1983, the piece brings together three towering figures in American late modernism, namely: choreographer Lucinda Childs, composer John Adams and architect Frank Gehry. Starkly minimalist, assiduously abstract, yet delightfully human, it achieves a brilliant symbiosis between the visions of three great artists who had not met before this project, and did not collaborate again after it.

The piece is performed on a truly spectacular stage architecture. A defiant, almost monolithic, post-industrial structure, it comprises a vast platform, which rests upon five pillars made of vertical and diagonal strips of metal. Two long sets of stairs carry the dancers from the performance floor to the platform, making their approach impressively grand, almost like that of a Roman emperor.

The tension between the simplicity of Gehry’s design and its sheer scale is, no doubt, intentional. It is just one of many pleasing paradoxes that run through the work.

Adams’s electronic score plays to an early-1980s sense of modernity, while also harking back to a classical musical heritage (including the organ music of Johann Sebastian Bach). As in the work of his fellow American minimalists Steve Reich and Philip Glass, there is an invigorating power in the variations which are flecked through Adams’s repetitions.

In Childs’s choreography, a dozen superb dancers (dressed variously in red, white and black) evoke, by turns, the mechanical dimension in modern life, and (not least in clever and humorous plays upon classical ballet) the defiant unpredictability of human experience. Perfectly synchronised, carefully calibrated movement by one group of dancers is juxtaposed with stasis, or an entirely different motion, on the part of another group. The consequence of this tension between self-discipline and creative freedom is dance of hypnotic beauty.

Ultimately, the enduring importance of this work lies in its reflection of the United States’ contribution to artistic modernism since the Second World War. It could hardly be more redolent of this great tradition were it to be danced in front of the paintings of Jackson Pollock and Mark Rothko.

Until July 8.

This review was originally published on the website of the Daily Telegraph on July 7, 2017

http://www.telegraph.co.uk/dance/what-to-see/hypnotic-beauty-available-light-palace-theatre-manchester-review/

© Mark Brown

 

 

Review: The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas, Cast, Doncaster

DANCE

 

THE BOY IN THE STRIPED PYJAMAS

CAST, DONCASTER

 

Reviewed by Mark Brown

 

Northern Ballet prides itself on being a pioneer in contemporary narrative ballet. However, in adapting The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas (John Boyne’s controversial 2006 Holocaust novel, which was made into a movie by Mark Herman in 2008) the company has made an enormous misstep.

Boyne’s book famously (or infamously, if one is so inclined) tells the tale of Bruno, the nine-year-old son of a Nazi commandant, and Shmuel, the Jewish boy of the same age whom Bruno befriends through the wire fence of the extermination camp at a fictionalised Auschwitz. Due to a series of mishaps, Bruno ultimately ends up dying alongside Shmuel in a gas chamber.

Striped Pyjamas #1
A dancing Nazi in The Boy With the Striped Pyjamas. Photo: Norther Ballet

It is hard to disagree with the novel’s detractors, such as New York-based Rabbi Benjamin Blech, who has described it as a “blatant distortion” and a “profanation”. There were, as Blech points out, no nine-year-old children held in Auschwitz (those below working age were murdered on arrival), and, even more importantly, the idea that any Auschwitz prisoner could have conducted a friendship through the perimeter fence of the camp is a ludicrous and indefensible lie.

Of course Boyne, Herman and, for that matter, Northern Ballet choreographer Daniel de Andrade can claim the right to artistic freedom. However, that freedom does not erase the crassness and vulgarity of the story, which are, if anything, magnified by being transposed into dance.

One watches in open-mouthed incomprehension as Andrade offers a series of grotesque parodies. A choreography for the forcing of Jews into the cattle trucks that would carry them to the death camp is nauseatingly cartoonish. In Auschwitz, the Nazis dance in choreographies inspired by goose-steps and stiff-armed salutes, while the prisoners’ movements are limp with hunger.

 

Striped Pyjamas #2
The choreographed suffering of extermination camp prisoners. Photo: Northern Ballet

In the novel, Bruno childishly mishears the phrase “the Führer” as “the Fury”. This gives rise to Andrade’s most striking innovation, a demonic figure who seems like a cross between Darth Vader and the wicked fairy Carabosse. Danced well by Mlindi Kulashe on Friday night, this horseman of the apocalypse is, at once, too mythical and too disconcertingly sensual to be credible in the context of a Holocaust narrative.

Like its literary and cinematic forebears, this ballet is, no doubt, well intentioned. More even than them, however, it is outrageously insensitive and misconceived.

Ends at Cast, Doncaster, Saturday, May 27, then touring until October 21: northernballet.com

This review was originally published on the website of the Daily Telegraph on May 29, 2017

http://www.telegraph.co.uk/dance/ballet/boy-striped-pyjamas-northern-ballet-outrageously-misconceived/

© Mark Brown

 

 

Review: Pepperland, Royal Court, Liverpool

DANCE

 

PEPPERLAND

ROYAL COURT, LIVERPOOL

 

Reviewed by Mark Brown

Pepperland
Mark Morris Dance Group. Photo: Robbie Jack

It was 50 years ago today (more or less) that The Beatles released their album Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band. How better to mark this musical milestone than with a festival, entitled Sgt. Pepper at 50, in which the Fab Four’s home city of Liverpool hosts 13 commemorative cultural events (one for every track on the album)?

Such a festival deserves a grand opening, and they don’t get much grander than Pepperland, the world premiere of a specially commissioned work by the internationally acclaimed Mark Morris Dance Group. Combining dance by the New York-based company with a musical score by American composer Ethan Iverson, the show is a truly joyous, celebratory work of art.

The opener, a dance to Iverson’s minimal, jazzy arrangement of the album’s title track, sets the tone perfectly. The relaxed, quasi-operatic singing of splendid baritone Clinton Curtis underlines the innovative distinctiveness of the music.

Meanwhile Morris’s extraordinarily talented dancers perform a choreography that combines balletic precision with deliciously unexpected moments of physical discordance and quirky humour. The delightful exuberance of the dance finds the ideal partner in Elizabeth Kurtzman’s gorgeous costumes, gloriously colourful affairs inspired by the psychedelic pastiche army uniforms worn by The Beatles on the classic cover of Sgt. Pepper.

Iverson’s arrangements of songs from the album are interspersed with his own original compositions, which draw upon contemporary classical and baroque influences. The prominent place given to the electrophonic instrument the theremin is surprisingly satisfying, not least during Morris’s touching choreography for Penny Lane.

The general cheerfulness of the work is punctuated by moments of humanistic reflection. This is particularly true of the response to George Harrison’s song Within You Without You, which was famously inspired by eastern spiritual teaching.

The dance begins, appropriately, with a lone performer, floating across the stage, as if in cosmic isolation. Soon, however, he is replaced by a vibrant ensemble, moving singularly and collectively, embodying Harrison’s reflection that humanity is indivisibly “all one”.

Played on a simple set (designer Johan Henckens’s little mountain of shiny foil cleverly illuminated by Nick Kolin), Pepperland is a wonderful platform for the skill, intelligence and athleticism of the Mark Morris Dance Group. It is also a suitably unique and brilliant homage to one of the great rock albums.

At Royal Court, Liverpool until May 27. For details of the festival, visit: sgtpepperat50.com

 

This review was originally published on the website of the Daily Telegraph on May 26, 2017

http://www.telegraph.co.uk/dance/what-to-see/brilliant-homage-sgt-pepper-beatles-pepperland-royal-court/

© Mark Brown

Reviews: Out of This World, MacRobert Arts Centre, Stirling & Each Other, Tramway, Glasgow

PHYSICAL THEATRE / DANCE REVIEWS

 

Out Of This World,

Seen at MacRobert Arts Centre, Stirling;

touring UK until June 10

 

Each Other,

Tramway, Glasgow,

Run ended

 

Reviewed by Mark Brown

Out of This World
Sarah Swire in Out of This World. Photo: Jane Hobson 

The month-long Dance International Glasgow (DIG) festival opened at the Tramway venue last weekend. Its diverse programme includes works by Tim Etchells (of acclaimed English performance company Forced Entertainment), experimental Icelandic choreographer Margret Sara Gudjonsdottir and Scottish Dance Theatre. Once again we find a contemporary dance programme that blurs the old distinctions between art forms.

Out Of This World, the latest show from performance spectacle director Mark Murphy is a case in point. The piece, which will play the DIG festival on May 19 and 20 (in addition to dates in Inverness and Edinburgh), is defined by Murphy’s V-tol company as “genre-defying action packed theatre.”

Murphy (who directed the closing ceremony of the Commonwealth Games in Glasgow in 2014) has created a theatre piece built around the story a young, newly-wed couple, Ellen and Jonathan, who are admitted to hospital with serious injuries following a car crash. The drama, in which we experience the aftermath of the crash from within Ellen’s mind, is slightly reminiscent of Anthony Neilson’s great play The Wonderful World Of Dissocia.

There is quasi-surreal dialogue, Lecoq-style physical movement and aerial work on wires, all wrapped up in an extensive series of projected graphics, which shift continuously between representations of the hospital and abstract expressions of Ellen’s thought processes. What there is not is anything one could really refer to as dance.

The combination of the projections with the aerial work is truly impressive at times. Murphy’s script, on the other hand, is decidedly variable, not least in its sentimental conclusion. One need not be especially hard-hearted to find the denouement more than a little emotionally manipulative.

Which is a pity, as the production boasts some strong performances, not least from Sarah Swire, who is compelling and charismatic as Ellen. As so often with such multimedia performance works, V-tol’s piece is stronger on spectacle than narrative.

Each Other
Each Other. Photo: Andy Ross

Narrative is effectively dispensed with in Each Other, a new work by Netherlands-based choreographers Uri Ivgi and Johan Greben, which was presented by Scottish Ballet on the opening night of the DIG festival. A large cast of dancers dressed in ragged costumes descends on a set strewn with shoes.

At first there is a disquieting disconnect between the human figures and the sheer volume of the shoes, which appear like the aftermath of the liberation of a Nazi death camp or of the Cambodian killing fields. However, as the people collect and assemble the footwear one is reminded of the untold numbers of our fellow human beings around the globe (the late, great John Berger wrote of them as the “rag pickers”) who our “economic order” has reduced to scrabbling a living among garbage mounds.

There is particular poignancy in the image of the shoes being built into a partition separating one group of people from another; even though both groups are, to all intents and purposes, identical. It is hardly surprising, given the piece’s quiet, abstract humanism, that the choreography is at its most transfixing in its dynamic ensemble moments.

Yet, whilst the work moves us with its focus on collective suffering and resilience, it also recognises the profound singularity of the human condition. The excellent, beat-driven electronic score and the clamour of the human mass give way, ultimately, to the vulnerability and fortitude of the individual human spirit.

For details of the Dance International Glasgow programme, visit: tramway.org

Tour details for Out Of This World can be found at: outofthisworldtour.co.uk

These reviews were originally published in the Sunday Herald on April 30, 2017

© Mark Brown

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