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Dance Review: Fringe at The Place, Sweetshop Revolution/Sue MacLaine

Dance is a small but sturdy part of the Edinburgh Fringe programme, with a growing number of dance makers opting to take work up to the world’s largest arts festival to nestle against stand-up comedy, cabaret and new drama. This year The Place previews six new dance works on their way up to Edinburgh; the third evening of Fringe at The Place paired a delicate biographical piece from dancer-choreographer Sally Marie with arresting autobiographical philosophy from Sue MacLaine.

I Loved You and I Loved You is a reflection on the life and work of Welsh composer Morfydd Owen, portrayed by dancer Faith Prendergast. Owen’s sex and humble social background challenged the conventions of the late-Edwardian music world; she was a celebrated pianist, singer and prolific composer, producing over 180 known compositions in the ten years leading up to her early death. Owen’s social life was no less turbulent: pursued by former politician Eliot Crawshay-Williams (Karl Fargarlund-Brekke), she chose instead to marry psychoanalyst Ernest Jones (Daniel Whiley), who may have been put a dampener on her unusual career.

Prendergast, Whiley and Fargarlund-Brekke all give strong performances. Whiley writhes himself into twisted contortions of self-torture, seemingly unable to reconcile the sexual theories of his mentor Sigmund Freud with his own repressed desires in an agonising monologue in which Jones appears to be trying to crawl out of his own skin; Fargarlund-Brekke’s character is more smoothly self-assured, but cracks in the confident surface reveal thwarted ambition and self-doubt beneath. Tiny, doll-like Prendergast first appears on stage as an embodiment of her own music, drawing notes from the piano (played by Brian Ellsbury) with a twist of the head and a stir of the arm. She whirls about her lovers with joyous abandon, soothing oil to the troubled waters of each man’s passions.

What I slightly miss from this engaging and beautifully-performed work at present is a sense of Owen’s own voice, her agency, her motivations for the choices she makes. Prendergast is the only member of the cast not to speak on stage; at present, she literally lacks a voice. The opening sequence sees her passed bodily between her two co-performers, as if she has no personal power at all. This initial impression runs quite contrary to the spirited Owen we see in later duets, but lingers in the mind even as we listen to the compositions and view the life and loves of a highly unconventional woman. I Loved You and I Loved You is presented here as a work in progress, and with further work in the studio could be a delicate, affecting gem of a piece at this year’s Fringe.

It’s not every dance theatre piece that contains the word “equivalence”. Theatre maker Sue MacLaine’s Can I Start Again Please, a philosophical investigation of the limitations of language in describing experience touching on Wittgenstein, theories of translation and child abuse, is an unusual and absorbing work. MacLaine and co-creator Nadia Nadarajah sit side by side facing the audience, a long scroll of text (a script? A set of instructions?) concertinaed between them. MacLaine introduces her putative subject – Wittgenstein – the Austrian-born linguistic philosopher whose most famous pronouncements include “Whereof one cannot speak, thereof one must be silent.”

Nadarajah serenely translates MacLaine’s words into beautifully gestured British Sign Language (BSL), fluid as a kathak performance and mesmerising to watch. But it’s a rebellious translation: at times, Nadarajah sits still while MacLaine pauses for some description to be interpreted; at other times, Nadarajah translates MacLaine’s direct questions to her instead of answering. MacLaine worries about how her story will be received – can she assume the audience will know who Wittgenstein is, or must this be detailed to ensure understanding? Can we ever ensure understanding? MacLaine is uncertain, and allows this theoretical uncertainty to flit lightly between the earnest and the comical.

Over the course of fifty bold, gripping minutes, a harrowing tale of family abuse emerges – a lamp, a bedroom, a house, a family, an entire world made absurd and unreal by a process of childhood dissociation. We learn the BSL signs for “repression” and “suppression”, and the difference between the two is fascinating and provoking. Where MacLaine’s concerns about the capacity of language to convey her experience are frequently laugh-out-loud funny, the audience falls into a hush of appalled comprehension at the narrative of MacLaine’s trauma. MacLaine finds a way to articulate what has happened – a way to speak “whereof” – that demands only silence in return.

Can I Start Again Please is a brave work, not only because it deals with an emotionally difficult topic but because it deals with its subject in an unapologetically rational, even academic manner. Dance theatre pieces that muse on formal and functional equivalence in language may be few and far between, but MacLaine’s warm, engaging manner, the frequent humour and the beauty of the staging mean Can I Start Again Please is inviting rather than alienating, even for those in the audience that lack large quantities of translation theory in their research backgrounds. An accomplished piece of theatre that deserves to do well in Edinburgh.

Originally published at www.londondance.com

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August 20, 2015 Posted by | Dance, Reviews | , | Leave a comment

Dance review: Compagnie DCA Philippe Decoufle, Contact, Sadler’s Wells

Contact image Bettina Strenske

Philippe Decouflé is the French theatrical magician who has previously brought to life an encyclopedia of imaginary animals (in Codex/Tricodex), delved into the secret life of shadows (Sombrero), and created the delightfully bonkers opening ceremony for the 1992 Winter Olympics in Albertville. His works are hard to classify, straddling the boundaries between dance, cabaret, comedy and contemporary theatre with a healthy dash of stage artifice and visual trickery.Contact, a show about sixteen performers putting on a very loose adaptation of Faust, is no different in this regard – a melange of skits, spectacle and silliness sprinkled with moments of genuinely breathtaking beauty.

Contact opens with a fluid solo for dancer Eric Martin. Dressed in a spangled tailsuit and coiffed to look just like Vincent Van Gogh’s self-portrait, Martin glides bonelessly across the forestage with a sliding variation that’s equal parts Broadway jazz and the new streetdance style of floating. As other company members filter in behind him, the pulsing sounds played live by musicians Nosfell and Pierre Le Bosfell ramp up from sparse synth percussion to a richer full-bodied soundtrack.

Contact makes mesmerising use of its cast’s many talents. Julien Ferrantishows himself to be as adapt with a countertenor vibrato as he is dancing the lindy hop; Violette Wanty joins circus-trainedSuzanne Soler for an aerial duet on bungee chords; and the exotically limber Sean Patrick Mombrunowinds himself athletically into a small box as if it was the easiest thing in the world. Lines between disciplines are blurred; musicians join in sections of dance, dancers erupt into song, and everyone is swept into the comic dialogue between the refreshingly older performers Stéphane Chivot andChristophe Salengro.

Decouflé has a similarly boundary-blurring approach to movement, with nods toMGM musicals, lively partner dance and Bauschian parade all in the choreographic blender. A lengthy dance-battle sequence recalls West Side Story; a thrilling corde lisse solo for Soler finds the acrobat whipped around at terrifying speeds (for me; clearly Soler herself has no fear). Dance scenes are frequently accompanied by live-captured video effects designed by Olivier Simola; the live action onstage is blown up onto the back wall, looped, inverted and fractured into kaleidoscopic effects that recall Busby Berkeley’s bathers in glorious technicolor.

If there’s a criticism to be made about Contact, it’s that the loose narrative of a troupe performing a strangely modified version of Faust isn’t coherent enough to frame the work effectively, and towards the comic vignettes occasionally distract from the otherwise hypnotic dance sequences. There’s a definite drop in energy towards the end as well, with the last twenty minutes feeling decidedly saggy; a sequence articulating a mathematical proof of God suffers either from sound problems or lack of rehearsal, as the unison is less taut here than elsewhere in the show for both speakers and dancers.

Overall, however, Contact is as full of strange delights as the company’s previous outings. Bizarre, otherworldly and beautiful – in other words, business as usual for the Gallic maverick.

http://www.sadlerswells.com

Originally published at londondance.com

June 18, 2015 Posted by | Dance, Reviews | , | Leave a comment

Dance Review: Tanztheater Wuppertal Pina Bausch, Ahnen, Sadler’s Wells

Image: Bettina Strenske

Tanztheater Wuppertal has a notably devoted following and, to some extent, viewers will already know what to expect from a Bausch work. A large, dominant stage set by Peter Pabst that frames, hinders or becomes part of the action; beautifully-performed gestural processions; loosely-connected vignettes; Marion Cito’s gorgeous costuming. These elements are all present and correct in Ahnen, but with an added element of strange chaos that doesn’t belong to her most famous works.

The first ten minutes of the show seem deliberately calculated to put the audience’s collective head in a spin. Bright lighting; a loud burst of German electropunk; characters strutting across the stage in a bizarre mélange of costumes that includes manga cats, kilted punks and animated hats like something out of a Magritte painting; a woman dumping wheelbarrowloads of bricks at the back of the stage; a woman attacking a concrete block with a pneumatic drill. Overlapping action and unexplained occurrences on stage are a pair of Pina hallmarks, but the frenetic rate and the dizzying randomness of events made me wonder if Bausch had popped across the border in 1987 for a trip to see one of her young Belgian contemporaries – Alain Platel, perhaps, or maybe Wim Vandekeybus.

After a while the pace settles down, but the action itself continues flitting from scene to scene without even the loose connecting theme that binds so much of Bausch’s other work. A woman with a painted face grates a stick of soap into powder onto a rug; a man appears bound with an orange in his mouth, and is given a wet-shave by a fellow cast member; somebody mops a walrus at the back of the stage. There’s a helicopter, and a dog. A man sits silently in front of a microphone with a tutu wrapped around his head; others stack bricks, wind wool and tie ties repeatedly. One man instructs another to literally jump through a hoop placed against a wall with painful-looking results.

Pain is otherwise notable by its absence here, in stark contrast to last week’s bleaker Auf dem Gebirge hat man ein Geschrei gehört. The mood is light, if relentlessly odd; Bausch’s works are usually abstractedly dreamlike, but Ahnen is more overtly surreal than any I recall to date. There’s a feeling of global wandering – the soundtrack lurches from African drumming to Monteverdi via Ella Fitzgerald and Japanese pop – and the desert evoked by the giant (and undeniably phallic) cacti seems less of a physical location and more a place of the soul.

Ahnen is certainly a peculiar kind of fun, and there are endless surprises and sweet highlights throughout – from hilarious running translations of Bizet arias to a seated ensemble section for hands (perhaps a little touch of Anne Teresa De Keersmaeker creeping in there) – but it’s hard to say what it all adds up to. The title suggests only the most hazy of clues: as a noun ‘Ahnen’ can mean ancestors (for anyone looking for connections to last week’s show it’s part of the term ‘Ahnenpass’, the document used in Nazi Germany to prove Aryan heritage) or, as a verb, to guess, intuit or suspect. Portions of the show seem to hint at a sense of wandering identity, a search for heritage, an attempt to fit in among the cacti; others seem to veer more towards a sense of guessing, intuiting, feeling without understanding.

A technical hitch with the fire curtain towards the end of the second half had the audience wondering if this was another (deliberate) strange intervention in a landscape of strange interventions – tribute, certainly, to the commitment of the cast in maintaining this most peculiar of atmospheres. Described by Artistic Director Lutz Förster as “completely crazy” and by The Guardian’s Judith Mackrell as “Bausch on speed”, Ahnen is undoubtedly an oddity among the Bausch back-catalogue but an enjoyable one all the same.

Photo: Bettina Strenske

Originally published at www.londondance.com

June 4, 2015 Posted by | Dance, Reviews | , | Leave a comment

Dance Review: Ultima Vez, What The Body Does Not Remember, Sadler’s Wells  

It’s fair to say that 28 years ago, the debut production by Wim Vandekeybus and his company Ultima Vez changed the face of European dance theatre. In a landscape dominated by neoclassical lines set to contemporary classical scores, Ultima Vez quite literally crashed onto the scene with a vocabulary built on combat rolls, whole-body assaults on the floor and some pretty dangerous-looking brick hurling. That the work still looks fresh and modern is testimony to how truly groundbreaking it was in 1987.

The opening section of the piece (sometimes excerpted as “Hands”) still thrills with its intensely rhythmic interplay between a lone percussionist at the back of the stage playing an amplified table-top, and the two floorbound dancers answering each musical phrase in movement. There’s almost something of a South Asian classical structure to this sequence – rhythms pounded out on a table (rather than a tabla) and repeated in percussive body movement – but with a hyper-physical twist that finds the dancers flipping upside down and landing in the plank position in ever-quicker, ever more impossible unison.

Critics dubbed the style “Eurocrash” (although the name has been fondly adopted since by fans) and it’s probably the second section that finds Vandekeybus’s choreography at its most aggressive. Dancers circle the stage with wild (but perfectly-timed) sprints and leaps, and lob plaster blocks across the stage with apparent disregard for the safety of their colleagues. The eye is repeatedly drawn across the stage by arcs of flying plaster, then surprised by action erupting on the other side of the stage. It’s a carefully-controlled form of anarchy, born of clever stucture and split-second timing with the constant danger of descending into chaos.

In fact, if there’s one criticism to be had about this revival it’s that the performers are a little too slick with the material. There’s certainly one kind of delight to be had from watching the absolute trust that springs from knowing with absolute certainty that a brick or a body will be flying to a certain place onstage at a given time. Veterans in the audience may miss the rougher edge of earlier stagings, however, in which the cast often appeared to be in genuinely imminent danger.

Later sections are more playful – a sequence with the cast parading across the diagonal in a succession of rapidly changing beach towels has something of Pina’s processions about it, with an additional lick of towel-based humour. Attempts to take a group photograph go absurdly wrong when one member of the cast seems unsure which way is up.

Vandekeybus doesn’t let us stay comfortable for too long, however – a lengthy central sequence sees three women engaged in an extended game of non-consensual frisking with three male partners. If it’s uncomfortable to watch when the men’s advances are clearly unwelcome, it becomes even more so when some of the women seem to enjoy the brutal attention.

The performance is accompanied by robust live music from the Ictus ensemble, some of it ear-grating polyphonia, some of it uptempo jungle ryhthms. Whether you enjoy the music – and the production – probably depends on how bruising you like your scores and your movement. If your answer, like mine, is “very”, there’s probably no more enjoyable show in town this season.

Touring until 20th March – http://www.ultimaveztour.co.uk

Originally published at www.londondance.com

February 13, 2015 Posted by | Dance, Reviews | Leave a comment

Fiery Footwork, Flashy Fingers: Akram Khan And Israel Galván  

The always-watchable Akram Khan has been delighting audiences with his innovative combinations of kathak and contemporary dance for over a decade. No stranger to collaboration, this period has seen him work with artists as diverse as Sidi Larbi Cherkaoui, Sylvie Guillem and Juliette Binoche. This latest duet pairs the British choreographer-performer with flamenco superstar Israel Galván in a performance that puts the shared roots of kathak and flamenco through a blender to create a new and sometimes dazzling form.

The silence in which TOROBAKA begins brings new meaning to the phrase “hushed expectation”. UK audiences are expecting something spectacular from the superbly inventive Khan and the number of Spanish voices overheard in the foyer suggests the pull Galván has on his home audience. The performance begins with a clapping of hands and a slapping of bare feet on the floor, rhythmic kathak cycles broken up with intricate flicks and taps drawn from flamenco. Rapid whirling spins from Khan’s vocabulary are broken apart with syncopated body percussion from Galván’s, the two swooping into bull-like charges and matador swishes.

The opening duet reveals interesting contrasts between the two master performers; while Galván’s fleet footwork matches Khan’s step for step, his upper body is wilder, looser and less precise than the serene Khan’s. It’s only when the Spaniard steps to the side for an eccentric solo of hip-snapping, ferocious foot-stamping and incredibly rapid finger-clicking that his flame comes fully alive. Galván is an electrifyingly sensual performer when given the opportunity to own the stage. It’s an opportunity Khan gives generously, allowing Galván the lion’s share of the stage time — a decision that will perhaps disappoint fans who have primarily come to see the British artist perform.

An international troupe of musicians provides a soundtrack melding Carnatic ragas with Hispanic harmonies, and quickfire mnemonic syllables with lusty Spanish counting. There’s a great sense of camaraderie onstage, and the work feels like a passionate exchange of ideas — intermittently brilliant, rough around the edges and sometimes lacking in substance.

None of which seemed to bother the ecstatic crowd at Monday night’s premiere. TOROBAKA doesn’t quite offer the sublime alchemy of Zero Degrees or Sacred Monsters, but it does offer a rare chance to see two compelling performers pushing the boundaries of their respective forms.
Originally published at www.londonist.com

November 5, 2014 Posted by | Dance, Reviews | , | Leave a comment

Le Patin Libre – Vertical Influences, Alexandra Palace

Le Patin Libre in Vertical Influences

When Le Patin Libre first skated their way into London last year with The Rule Of 3 they brought a contemporary, spangle-free vibe to an artform more often associated with cheesy grins and tiny slithers of sequinned chiffon. With their deliberately pedestrian vocabulary, deceptively effortless unison and high-speed gliding, the Canadian troupe made skating as cool as the ice on which it’s performed.

Vertical Influences, a special commission for Dance Umbrella, returns the group to London as a quintet. The work is more studiedly abstract than their previous outing; instead of Rule Of 3’s character-driven narrative we have a series of formal vignettes with the focus firmly on the body in gliding motion.

There’s a loose theme of tribalism versus individuality; the five begin skating in almost martial formation to a heavy drumbeat that demands synchronicity. One by one, figures from the group break away into solo excursions that are almost always reabsorbed by the group again; the remaining four either fall into unison behind the breakaway soloist, or physically drag him or her back into the group. By the end of the show, the ensemble sections have lost their brutally syndicalist overtones and become a gentler, more graceful union.

Anyone expecting death spirals and triple salchows is likely to be disappointed; Vertical Influences is much more about gliding in elegant interleaving formations, speed-skating in slow motion, and clever footwork in thrillingly precise unison. There are occasional jumps and pirouettes woven into the movement material, and which greatly excited the gentleman seated next to me in the first half, but these are by far the least interesting thing about the performance.

Perhaps the most exciting moments come in the second half; with the audience seated at one end of the ice rink itself, the skaters hurtle towards us out of the blackness at electrifying speed, swerving away at the very last moment. The skaters glide like a well-oiled machine, unblinking as they advance on us, unflinching as they swerve away. It’s a gripping moment that only gains power in repetition.

Long-time company member Pascale Joidin brings an expressive athleticism to her UK debut. Bambi-legged Samory Ba is still the longest-limbed man on ice, a physical attribute used to both daring and comic effect in a second half solo that sees him flinging himself around his own legs and scampering across the rink on all fours. Choreographer Alexandre Hamel suffers from a few Wednesday-night wobbles in the first half, but in the beautifully-polished second half all is well.

With clear movement influences from hip-hop and b-boying as well as circus and dance theatre, Vertical Influences is a fresh, ice-cool take on contemporary figure skating. It’s great to see the troupe back in London, and it’s great to see Dance Umbrella branch out into new venues and new artforms in the name of introducing contemporary choreography to broader audiences. Keep your scorecards at home; this is best enjoyed as a piece of dance theatre that happens to be performed on ice, rather than an ice dance show.

Continues at Alexandra Palace until Friday 31 October (6.30pm & 8.30pm)
www.danceumbrella.co.uk

Originally published at www.londondance.com

October 30, 2014 Posted by | Dance, Reviews | , | Leave a comment

Margrét Sara Guðjónsdóttir – Variations on Closer

Variations on Closer Image: John Ross Photography http://www.johnross.co.uk/

Performer and choreographer Margrét Sara Guðjónsdóttir is a new face in London, but not in her native Iceland where she has made work for theatre and outdoor spaces since 2004. Since 2007 her work has toured internationally, and this year her work Step right to it is supported by the Aerowaves touring initiative. Earlier this year, Guðjónsdóttir was commissioned by Sweden’s prestigious Culberg Ballet. All this makes the third presentation in Sadler’s Northern Light season a rather frustrating evening, then, because none of the above explains howVariations on Closer comes to be such a naïve, sophomoric and at times frankly dull piece of work.

The concept is simple: three dancers enter the stage in turn and perform sequences of minimal movement, stepping or crawling across the stage in slow motion. Laura Siegmund brings a robotic, android-like quality to her repeating movements, sometimes jittering or malfunctioning for an instant; Angela Schubot throws in moments of anti-ballet – pliés that don’t descend, and cloches with the foot flully flexed; and Marie Ursin Erichsen, resplendent in her fuschia underwear, seems to have got lost on the way to a gentlemen’s club somewhere in Soho. All three fix the audience with unwavering stares as they move, suggesting an inversion of the usual relationship between performer and audience.

There is always a place in dance theatre for the minimal, the gestural, the austere. There is always a place for the academic, for the challenging, for the downright difficult. I’ve seen enough walkouts from performances by dancemakers I admire to know that one person’s thrilling dissection of the nature of performance and performance-making is another person’s mindnumbing aberration; there’s room on the London stage for all manner of art. But at the base of Guðjónsdóttir’s piece is an overwhelming lack of curiosity, a failure to scratch beneath the surface of a potentially interesting topic.

Siegmund, with her cold, mechanical stare probably makes the best fist of the performance overall; she has an unnerving ability to make her unending gaze appear Terminator-like, as if she’s calculating the most efficient way to take out the audience. She’s also the most capable mover, infusing supple limbs with a convincingly machine-like quality. Confrontational anti-performance paradoxically requires skilled performers; Siegmund fares reasonably well but Schubot and Erichsen are simply not strong enough technically or dramatically to carry off the deliberately unvirtuoisic material.

Towards the end of the piece a scarlet curtain abruptly descends from the rig, no doubt symbolising the constructed nature of performance and our role as audience or some such. I must confess to having entirely lost interest by this point. Minimalist performance, well-executed, can be a thing of provocative delight; but there’s simply nothing of inherent interest in Guðjónsdóttir’s material, or in the way it’s danced. A difficult watch, but not in the good way.
Part of the Northern Light season at Sadler’s Wells

Originallpy published at http://www.dancetabs.com

October 7, 2014 Posted by | Dance, Reviews | , | Leave a comment

Poetry In Motion: Russell Maliphant And Sylvie Guillem In PUSH

Sylvie Guillem and Russell Maliphant in PUSH

When PUSH, a triple-showcase for the talents of choreographer Russell Maliphant, dancerSylvie Guillem and lighting designer Michael Hulls, premiered in 2005 it was praised for both the mesmerising beauty of the dance material and the beguiling performances of its two stars. In the intervening nine years, the programme of three solos and an extended duet has lost none of its stirring beauty, and both performers look as fresh as ever on stage. If anything, the final duet has even improved over time.

The evening begins with Solo, a short piece for Guillem set to the music of Carlos Montoya. Lusciously backlit in what looks like a pair of extremely stylish, diaphanous pajamas, Guillem glides about the stage with casual flicks of the leg up to her ears to highlight the rhythmic details in the music. Shift, a solo for Maliphant, finds the choreographer dancing ingeniously with his own shadow, tai-chi inspired movements softly unfolding across the stage as silhouetted versions of himself flit across the back screen. A simple idea, near-flawlessly executed, Shift is a fine example of what makes Maliphant such an endlessly fascinating choreographer, and his supple performance is engrossing to watch.

Two, a solo originally created for Malipant’s wife Dana Fouras, gets out and about relatively often; versions of the piece were shown last year as part of the Liang/Maliphant/Wheeldon triple bill and then again last month in Still Current. Guillem’s interpretation of the piece however is second to none; her absolute clarity and command are electrifying.

Push brings the two together in a weight-sharing duet of absolute trust. Guillem rolls down and across Maliphant’s body; she arches back from his shoulders in softly cantilevered falls; he pulls her up from the ground into lifts that seem to simply overlook the laws of gravity. There’s a lovely effortless quality to the movement that springs from a deep connection and chemistry between the two performers. Although there is no narrative as such, Push speaks of intimacy with a lyrical eloquence that the athletic, showy choreography of much modern work lacks.

These are the final-ever performances of the programme; lovers of contemporary dance will not want to miss out on this last opportunity to see two sublime performers at work.

Originally published at www.londonist.com

July 30, 2014 Posted by | Dance, Reviews | Leave a comment

Lightness And Longing In Sadler’s Wells

SCHMETTERLING_RR_(4)
One of the world’s most successful touring companies, Nederlands Dance Theatre has built up an ecstatic following in Europe over the last fifty years, but performs relatively rarely in London.  This repertory double-bill celebrates the work of Artistic Director Paul Lightfoot with his long-term choreographic partner, Sol León.It might be said that forty-odd extant Lightfoot-León works share something of a characteristic template: a large and active set that often becomes part of the stage action; a distinctive use of facial gesture; a single figure on the forestage in a state of partial nudity. Certainly the evening’s opener Sehnsucht (“longing”) nods to each of these conventions in turn; our partially-dressed soloist for the evening is the gaunt, sinewy Silas Henriksen.Behind him, in a revolving box spotted with furniture, Medhi Walerski and Parvaneh Scharafali slump across a table. Each dances tense, yearning phrases, like cinematic voice-overs hinting at the characters’ inner turmoil. The room rotates around them, leaving Walerski swinging from a dining chair or Scharafali rolling across a wall that becomes a ceiling. They exit, surprisingly, feet-first through the window. Gorgeously danced (of course) to luscious extracts of Beethoven’s piano works, Sehnsucht is an effective mood piece with innovative moments that later erupts into an exuberant ensemble, the whole company leaping bare-breasted in unison.

Schmetterling (“Butterfly”) is a less pensive, more joyful affair, a collection of short sequences performed to The Magnetic Fields’ quirky 69 Love Songs. With its jukebox soundtrack and playful choreography, Schmetterling could be viewed as a country cousin of Rambert’s recently-toured Rooster; this being NDT, however, there’s an undercurrent of deviant sexuality that Christopher Bruce could never stage. Legs whip around torsos and yawn into welcoming straddles; dancers shrug one another on and off like so many changes of clothes; and there’s just a little light BDSM in the mix. This isn’t cute-sexy like Bruce or elegant-sexy like Balanchine; this is rough-and-dirty-sexy, the dance equivalent of a swift seeing-to at the back of an Amsterdam nightclub, and so much the more fun for that.

Originally published at www.londonist.com

July 2, 2014 Posted by | Dance, Reviews | Leave a comment

A Delightfully Vaudeville Update Of Cosi Fan Tutte

ENO Cosi fan Tutte Kate Valentine, Randall Bills, Marcus Farnsworth, Christine Rice and Sally Reeve. Image: ENO/Mike Hoban

English National Opera has been taking some creative risks with its productions lately. In recent months we’ve seen a gorgeous and thrillingly physical Magic Flute directed by Complicite’s Simon McBurney; a revival of the company’s ambitious 2007 staging ofSatyagraha in collaboration with theatre magicians Improbable; and now this new production of one of Mozart’s best-loved operas, again in collaboration with Improbable. It’s as full of ravishing tunes, visual spectacle and buoyant humour as a comic opera about two men who cruelly test the fidelity of their lady-loves can be.

Cosi’s central themes — love, deception and the battle of the sexes — are universal enough to be moulded into a variety of historical settings. Here, the action plays out in the mid-century US, with a set design suggesting the Coney Island boardwalk and a supporting cast of acrobats and circus freaks. Tom Pye’s beautiful mobile set allows the cast to play up the (already-present) farcical elements of Cosi’s plot; characters duck in and out of hotel rooms, allowing the audience to eavesdrop on crucial exchanges while plausibly concealing these from the players.The new production boasts some excellent performances: soprano Kate Valentine gives an expressive performance as Fiordiligi, while mezzo-soprano Christine Rice exercises a gift for physical comedy, as well as a lovely warm tone, as Dorabella. Soprano Mary Bevan is a fabulously mischievous Despina, assisting Don Alfonso (Roderick Williams) with his rakish schemes.

Cosi’s often uncomfortable central premise — that all women are ultimately faithless, no matter how hard they protest to the contrary — needs a light touch to prevent the narrative from descending into bleak cynicism, and director Phelim McDermott keeps things bright with his agile staging and nimble pacing. Mozart brings the tunes, the supporting players bring the vaudeville colour, and the whole cast brings a comic touch that keeps this Cosi fresh and delightful. Deceit and treachery have rarely been so delicious.

Originally publiched at www.londonist.com

May 19, 2014 Posted by | opera, Reviews | Leave a comment