Monday, 31 December 2012

Jubilation

Jubilation, The London Ballet Company, Bridewell Theatre – reviewed on 19th December

In the upstairs hall of the Bridewell Theatre, amidst fairy lights and Christmas decorations, The London Ballet Company performed a show celebrating all things 2012.

Taking inspiration from the traditional Nutcracker and using much of its music, Jubilation began with a young girl creeping downstairs on Christmas Eve, but instead of battling mice and being transported to the Kingdom of Sweets, she is “led upon a journey of remembrance” through the year’s events. She flies to London, observes the Olympics and even becomes the Queen and waves at boats in her Jubilee Pageant.

The London Ballet Company is still trying to find its unique style and attempting to make dance more relevant to modern audiences. Their vision was evident in 00 and his 7 but is less successful here. Some moments work well – coloured umbrellas cleverly stack to become the Olympic rings and a Chinese dance on pointe is charming and delicate. But much of the production feels disjointed and choreography is unfortunately weak.

What is abundantly clear is the talent of the dancers on display. All professionally trained, they deserve a larger audience. I believe this company has a niche – in lunchtime and corporate entertainment taking inspiration from current affairs – and I hope with its home now at the Bridewell Theatre, The London Ballet Company will continue along this avenue.

Saturday, 15 December 2012

ENB Nutcracker Delight

The Nutcracker, English National Ballet, London Coliseum - reviewed on 14th December
Snowflakes
Photo: Annabel Moeller
English National Ballet have presented a Nutcracker every Christmas for the last 60 years. Their current version, with choreography by former company director Wayne Eagling, was created amidst artistic fireworks captured in 2011 BBC documentary, ‘Agony and Ecstasy’. But in spite of these initial very publicly-aired hiccups, the production is now becoming a staple Christmas treat, filled with the charm and magic that every Nutcracker needs.
 
James Streeter as the Mouse King
Photo: Patrick Baldwin
The production is set traditionally in Edwardian times, but Eagling makes other changes to the story to give the ballet a contemporary twist. For example, the Mouse King (pictured) is undefeated in the Act I battle and it is Clara herself who becomes the jewel-studded Sugar Plum Fairy. Some of these touches are unsuccessful – Clara’s brother Freddie’s Act II reincarnation during a sado-masochistic Arabian dance is downright bizarre – but most make for a heart-warming and engaging narrative. The ballet is also filled with sweet moments. Dr Drosselmeyer (perhaps so titled because he has a PHD in magic?) peeps his head out from the grandfather clock to change the time to midnight, a giant mouse trap is used to catapult cheese during the battle and party children from Tring Park School bring a delightful sense of wide-eyed Christmas excitement.
 
The company is in excellent shape, with the corps de ballet (pictured in Snowflakes) superbly synchronised, no doubt due to the efforts of new Ballet Mistress, Hua Fang Zhang. Nancy Osbaldeston, Crystal Costa and Daniel Kraus make a fabulously exuberant Spanish trio and Ksenia Ovsyanick looks more assured than ever in her beautifully-performed Mirlitons. The orchestra also play Tchaikovsky’s score with distinction under the baton of Gavin Sutherland.
Daria Klimentova as Clara (with Junor Souza as the Nutcracker)
Photo: Annabel Moeller

But it is modern-day Fonteyn and Nureyev, Daria Klimentova (pictured) and Vadim Muntagirov, who steal the show. Both sparkle as brightly as their Swarovski crystal-studded costumes and make Eagling’s detailed and sometimes hurried choreography look easy. Deservedly promoted to Lead Principal on The Nutcracker’s opening night, Muntagirov displays exceptional classical technique, particularly in his incredible whirring pirouettes that stop dead before he kneels effortlessly into his finishing position. Klimentova seems to float in her solo, gliding across the floor with a poise and elegance that perfectly matches the accompanying celesta music.
 
As the Royal Ballet’s Nutcracker is sold-out, this production makes an enchanting alternative, especially if you can catch the spectacular Klimentova/Muntagirov partnership on 26 Dec (mat), 28 Dec (eve) and 5 Jan (eve).

Monday, 10 December 2012

Opera and Ballet Rehearsals Compared

Royal Ballet in Rehearsal, Clore Studio @ ROH - 28 November; La Boheme Insight Evening, Royal Opera, Clore Studio @ ROH - 6 December
La Boheme at the Royal Opera House
Picture courtesy of ROH
I recently attended my first opera insight evening at the Royal Opera House and found it so informative that I felt compelled to blog. Conductor Mark Elder rehearsed two Jette Parker Young Artists in Puccini's La Bohème.
 
Elder began by describing the work as a “Monday night opera”, ie. one that will draw a good audience even at the beginning of the week. Puccini was "masterful" and his music "falls beautifully on the ears". However, the way that La Bohème is written, with vocals arranged to resemble the spontaneous nature of normal speech, is a real challenge to performers.

Michel de Souza and Susana Gaspar took the roles of Marcello and Mimi and were given directions by Elder to alter the rhythm of their singing to match key orchestral instruments (as Tchaikovsky had desired), as well as to adjust breathing, accents and pronunciation of the Italian libretto. Elder also encouraged the singers to pause at certain moments as stated in his orchestral score – although these instructions confusingly differed from those in the vocal score.

Whilst clearly this is different to ballet rehearsals, I noticed more similarities than I would have imagined. To make a direct comparision, I refer to Lesley Collier and Jonathan Cope's rehearsal of The Nutcracker grand pas de deux with Fumi Kaneko and Nehemiah Kish.
 
In the same way that musical scores differ, so too do versions of Peter Wright's choreography (in fact, he changes it every year), such that some dancers and coaches do one thing and others do another. (As Kaneko was new to the Sugar Plum Fairy role, the most up-to-date choreographic version was rehearsed, which included Collier and Cope puzzling over how to perform a new lift. After one attempt, Collier even stated: "That just looks like the old one but gone wrong!") 

The Nutcracker pas de deux (Roberta Marquez and Steven McRae)
Photo: Bill Cooper, courtesy of ROH
Dancing also needs to appear easy and natural although it is extremely challenging. Other corrections focused on musicality in the same way as the opera rehearsal, with coaches offering different views on the rhythms with which certain movements should be performed. Dancers were also encouraged to include stylistic elements such as bending the body and making port de bras appear "expensive", as this was Wright's intention (just like Tchaikovsky's musical intentions).

Cope worked particularly with Kish on the hand positions for partnering lifts and balances, suggesting he keep his thumbs pointed upwards so as not to "show the girl's knickers"! Whilst this bears no relation to opera, it was another fascinating insight into the backstage world of the Royal Opera House that shows why educational evenings are so thoroughly enjoyable and interesting.