Saturday, 23 July 2011

Roland Petit triple bill

Roland Petit’s Carmen with Le Jeune Homme et La Mort and L’Arlésienne, English National Ballet, London Coliseum – reviewed on 22nd July

English National Ballet’s night of works by Roland Petit has proved sadly timely following the Frenchman’s death just two weeks ago. Known for focusing on male torment and mortality, the choreographer uses simple but powerful movements to convey darkly dramatic stories.

In L’Arlésienne, a young man (Esteban Berlanga) is driven mad by his unrequited love for an unseen woman, despite his fiancée’s (Erina Takahashi) desperate attempts to gratify him. To beautifully grand music by Georges Bizet and a mountainous Van Gogh backdrop, the dancers were able to imbue Petit’s minute movements (holding hands, tapping the toe) with all of their intended meaning. Berlanga was unwavering and yearning, Takahashi was despairing and vulnerable; together their awkward, jerky movements and contrasting typical ballet pas de deux suited perfectly the impenetrability of the characters’ circumstances. The corps, frequently acting as puppeteers to manipulate the lead couple’s bodies, moved with exceptional synchronicity and conviction. This utterly engaging ballet was taken to its striking conclusion with the most untiring momentum and tenacity.

For one performance of Le Jeune Homme et la Mort only, Bolshoi dancer Ivan Vasiliev joined the company to pay personal tribute to Petit. Famously performed by Mikhail Baryshnikov in the 1980s movie White Nights, the Young Man role in the ballet is an acrobatically difficult one, but can only be convincing when the dancer has the passion to back up its athletic choreography. Vasiliev attacked the role with compelling dynamism, leaping furiously around his apartment in persuasively desperate anticipation of his lover’s arrival. Jia Zhang, debuting in the role of the Girl, was unreservedly cruel and sexy – in a yellow dress and black gloves, she mesmerised the poor man and dared him to take his own life. Totally under her spell, Vasiliev hanged himself centre-stage in a disturbingly haunting and yet exquisite image.

The main billing of the evening, Carmen, was the weakest of the three but still hugely enjoyable. In this exuberant ballet, Begoňa Cao as the title role was attractive and seductive, but at times lacked the character’s vigour. Fabian Reimair was a technically-adept and ardent Don José and James Streeter excelled in the supporting role of the Torreador. Again the corps dancers were superbly co-ordinated and charismatic. Overall, this programme was ENB at its very best and a fitting tribute to the unforgettable Petit.

From Here To There

From Here to There, Royal New Zealand Ballet, Barbican Theatre – reviewed on 16th July

Seven years since their last visit to the UK, the Royal New Zealand Ballet made a triumphant return with their latest triple bill at the Barbican.

Jorma Elo’s Plan to A opened the programme with the company showing technical competence but the choreography lacking cohesion and vitality. The second piece by former company member Andrew Simmons, A Song in the Dark, was simply choreographed with dancers appearing to try out shapes and movements as if in a ballet studio. The six couples rippled and glided, testing the body’s point of balance and suspension. If Simmons’ intention was to create an elegant and uncomplicated ballet with clean lines and beautiful music (by Philip Glass), his vision was well-executed. But it was Jordan Tuinman’s lighting design that elevated the piece into something more satisfying. Through the primarily dark stage and select spotlights, dancer shadows and silhouettes enlivened the plain backdrop and added an appealing depth to the choreography.

The final work, Banderillero (taking its name from the bullfighter that torments the bull) by Javier De Frutos, was the evening’s high point. Combining tribal movement with classical ballet, ten dancers swirled and twisted across the stage. Swathed in flesh-coloured fabric and with bare feet, the performers made balletic poses interesting with sharpened edges and threw their bodies with weight and power. Accentuated by dancers’ breathing and occasional vocal intrusions, the varied sounds of Chinese percussion by Yim Hok-Man complemented the dancing agreeably. The pace repeatedly built up and slowed down, with charming and surprising moments including spectacular lifts and even a passionate lesbian kiss. It was too long to sustain momentum throughout and needs major editing, but showed huge choreographic promise from De Frutos. More importantly, it enabled company dancers to display their superb capabilities and zeal to British audiences after such a long wait.

Wednesday, 20 July 2011

Romeo and Juliet

Romeo and Juliet, Peter Schaufuss Ballet, London Coliseum – reviewed on 13th July

Bolshoi superstars and real-life lovers Natalia Osipova and Ivan Vasiliev took on London last week with Denmark-based Peter Schauffuss Ballet. Performing the rarely seen Romeo and Juliet by Frederick Ashton, their neat Russian technique combined with abundant passion for each other in a memorable run of nine performances.

Many areas of the production were sadly lacking. The sparse modern set of cylindrical lights and odd background projections (most notably of an English-style rooftop for the balcony scene) were unable to match the intensity of the narrative. The corps de ballet of just eight dancers disappointingly did not create the feeling of crowds and warring families, but did at least complement Ashton’s choreographic focus on the lead couple rather than the rest of Shakespeare’s play.

It was Osipova’s exceptional acting ability and grace which saved this production. Arguably the best female dancer in the world today, she performed the tough choreography to perfection. Through each sequence of rapid jumps on pointe and lyrical bending of her upper body, she appeared elegant, charming and naively youthful. Juliet’s every emotion from rapture to despair was expressed in each tiny inch of her body and she alone carried the drama and emotion of the tragic story.

Vasiliev as Romeo was technically adept, but not able to convey the depth of passion required in such a role. Dances with Mercutio and Benvolio were delightful feats of virtuosity, with leaps and spins of impressive power and dynamism. Alban Lendorf, principal with the Royal Danish Ballet, in particular, showed remarkable strength and demonstrated the clearest character sentiment of the male dancers.

Prokoviev’s delicious score, although heavily cut, was played beautifully by the English National Ballet Orchestra under the baton of Graham Bond. This eagerly awaited Romeo and Juliet had its flaws, but nothing could take away from Osipova’s brilliance and the pleasure to be found in watching her dance.

Thursday, 7 July 2011

Royal Ballet School

Royal Ballet School, Linbury Studio Theatre – reviewed on 1st July

Every summer, the Royal Ballet School takes over the main Opera House stage as well as the smaller Linbury Studio Theatre for a series of performances showcasing its young prodigies.  This year the quality of technique and performance remained high, but dancers were let down by mediocre choreography.

Year 8 students were the cream of the lower school, performing the simple balletic Dance Bohémienne with poise and precision. The winning piece from the 2011 Ninette de Valois Junior Choreographic Award, by Year 8 students Lana Antoniou and Nadia Mullova-Barley, was equally impressive. With patterns, changing directions and simple pas de deux it was like a miniature Balanchine work.

A selection of folk and character dances were shown, the highlight being the Irish style arranged by Donna Phillips. Year 8’s Little Jig and Year 9’s Real Reel were so well-executed with formations and rhythms they looked like Riverdance. Morris and character dancing also abounded and was entertaining.

Older students performed classical repertoire. Luca Acri danced Franz’s solo from Coppélia with effortless spins and neat, well-executed jumps. Year 11 showed the charming David Bintley choreography En Bateau with vibrancy and a bravura head-first jump by Fiona McGee into her partners’ arms. Waltz of the Flowers from The Nutcracker lacked performance quality to connect with the audience but was technically neat.

The evening’s highlight was the Don Quixote pas de deux shown to perfection by Anna Rose O’Sullivan and Joan Zamora. Looking every inch the professional ballerina, O’Sullivan was seductive, charming and able to hit awkward balances with remarkable accuracy. Zamora performed his fiendish solo with ease, leaping with firework-like dynamism. Together, they demonstrated the proud and vivacious style of the duet with an infectious attraction.

Other pieces including Encuentro and Spring and Fall were repetitive and uninispiring. They lacked the animated choreography that the Royal Ballet School dancers brought so well to life in other sections of the performance.