L'enfant et les sortilèges and Petrushka - Opera North
This evening of opera and dance at the Lowry Centre in Salford forms part of the "Amaze Me!" season, subtitled "Paris Between The Wars", which is playing across the north. There is a wide range of events; concerts, cinema, opera and dance. It was with some trepidation that I attended this performance. An opera company should be able to handle that first part of the bill fine, but would they cope with the second part? I figured that since ballet once formed part of many operas, then they should be able to do a reasonable job.
I won't dwell to long on L'enfant. Opera is not my bag. I find most of it far too pretentious, especially the music. Also I am only fluent in two languages, Strine and English, so I find opera generally inaccessible. Surtitles help in this department, but I am generally unmoved to see any operas.
The text for this opera is in French. There were no surtitles for this production. The program contains the full text, which is written by Colette, in both French and English. While waiting to go into the auditorium I quickly boned up on the story over a cup of coffee.
The curtain rises while the orchestra are still tuning up, to reveal the child seated on a chair, drawing on some papers on his lap. There is an open book and a china cup on the floor. These items and the chair are constructed on a large scale to make the child appear small. This is most effective. There is also a normal size grandfather clock, a stove with a kettle boiling away and a 'fridge with a cage on top. I could not decide if these were supposed to be toys or the real thing. The child plays a few games until the conductor appears and we get under way.
A large scroll descends and unrolls to cover the scene. On it is written in large letters, a description of the setting (a room in a country house) in French, with small letters underneath with the English translation. This is then flown out and the various objects have been replaced by people who are portraying them. There is a lady in a Chinese dress for the cup, an old man who swings his walking stick for the clock, a man in boxing gloves for the teapot (that one is lost on me) and a lady brilliantly portraying the stove. The transformation is remarkable. There are several other characters too.
The story opens with the child breaking all of the objects. As the remainder of the story unfolds, the actors reappear in tattered versions of their costumes. Underneath they wear black unitards which have a skeleton painted on.
Generally I could follow the story, even though I couldn't understand the text. I couldn't work out all of the characters. The singing was probably very good, but I can't say I was moved by it. Like I said before, opera is not my thing. I was eagerly awaiting the dance.
So how do a group of dancers in nappies and red tap shoes, a large number of the yellow pages, a man in a frogman suit, a large wall topped with a skull wearing a cone shaped party hat, a wardrobe, some blue plastic bags and a passport combine to produce Petrushka? Well your guess is as good as mine, but that is what I saw.
As far as I could tell, the entire score was there. I don't know it note for note, but what I knew was played. Very well to by the Orchestra of Opera North. I managed to spot the ballerina (she had a red dress and point shoes on) and I recognised Petrushka by his music. I never did identify the moor or the puppet master.
The set consists of a wall, with the aforementioned skull atop and the wardrobe about 2/3 of the way along. There are some little hatches in this wall, which are used in various ways. You can see backstage and into the wings around the sides of the wall.
Obviously this is a contemporary dance version for Petrushka. One of my biggest criticisms of contemporary dance is that in every piece that I have seen, the choreographer seems to come up with one or two positions and then they run out of ideas, so the moves get repeated endlessly. This production was no exception; the two ideas being lots of finger poking of your head and feigned binoculars.
In this monstrosity, you can witness a women giving birth to a passport, three dancers escaping from plastic bags at the bottom of the sea, telephones being dialed, a dancer in a peep show, and some large skeletal hands and feet. There is also a large crowd of people shopping who make occasional appearances as they hurray across the stage. In fact the only bit I vaguely liked was the frogman. Walking in flippers is very difficult but he (she?) did it well and with amazing grace. The only balletic step he could do was some plies in seconde, but these were well executed. I guess he did some developes too; not easy in flippers!
The program says the staging is by Amir Hosseinpour and Nigel Lowery, with Hosseinpour credited as choreographer. The program also states they "return to its legacy and attempt to make it new." Well they should have left well enough alone.
If you get the chance to see this production, don't!