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Subject: "Royal Ballet, International Choreography Programme, 8/12/99" Archived thread - Read only
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Conferences What's Happening Topic #402
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09-12-99, 05:38 PM (GMT)
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"Royal Ballet, International Choreography Programme, 8/12/99"
   After all the fuss and publicity of the opening galas, I was looking forward to getting down to something more like business as usual for the Royal Ballet at Covent Garden, and getting a better and longer look at some of the dancers we havenít seen for a while. It didnít really quite turn out that way. The opening programme, ĎA Celebration of International Choreographyí included two new works from British choreographers, one from Siobhan Davies, working with the Royal for the first time, and one from the Royalís own Ashley Page who has been remarkably prolific in turning out short works for the company in recent years.

The centrepiece however, was a series of short works from a range of choreographers who had been specially invited to create a piece for the reopening of the ROH: the final list included Bejart, Duarto, Forsythe, Kudelka, Martins, Neumeier, Tetley and Tharp, but earlier on a number of other names were bandied around too, but dropped out. At each evening, a selection of these are shown - you need to attend three performances or so to see them all. It seemed a good opportunity to see something quite unique.

There were a few surprises though. Of the five items presented on the opening night, only one was a new creation, a pas de deux for Darcey Bussell and Otto Bubenicek of Hamburg Ballet, made for them by Neumeier. All the other items were fairly recent creations, but the surprise was that they were not in most cases danced by the Royal, but by guests from other companies. I had assumed that the Royal might be using the occasion as a means of acquiring some new pieces, but it doesnít appear so from this. In fact we saw only four dancers from the Royal in this section: it is, of course, always nice to see guests, but weíve been waiting to see the Royal back on stage here for some time, and guests might have been more appreciated in a few monthís time. The five items presented were: the fourth movement of Tagore (Tetley, 1989), Remanso (Duarto, 1997), Barber Violin Concerto (Martins, 1997), Lento (Neumeier, 1999), and summer from Four Seasons (Kudelka, 1997).

Greta Hodgkinson and Rex Harrington of the National Ballet of Canada appeared first in Tagore. She has beautiful long legs, nicely shown off by the costume: the choreography didnít seem that memorable, although it was quite a polished performance. The audience response was much bigger to the second item, Remanso, perhaps because the cast of Acosta, Cope and Urlezaga included some real audience favourites. A cube at the back of the stage provides a screen for the three to disappear behind, reappear from, climb over and generally mess about with. I thought it was quite amusing, and gave the dancers to show off a little, but when a red rose made its appearance - between Copeís teeth at that - I began to lose patience with it.

Darci Kistler and Jock Soto appeared in the second movement of Martinís Barber Violin Concerto. This seemed a very uneasy piece, full of unexplained tensions: Kistlerís pointe shoes were notably loud which seemed to add to the atmosphere. Itís always difficult to gets to grips with a work when you only see a short excerpt, and this item probably suffered more than most - it looked like it needed a broader context. Lento was quite different: it was the only item made for the occasion, specifically as a short item for Bussell. Her partner, Otto Bubenicek, from Hamburg Ballet, proved very strong and reliable, but the work seemed to be all about Darcey (resplendent in a red leotard), or more specifically, about Darceyís legs. They are very long indeed, and their various possibilities were exhaustively investigated. Lovely for the first few minutes, but repetition did set in. But she was very warmly welcomed, and it was lovely to see her again.

The final item of the mix saw the return of Greta Hodgkinson and Rex Harrington in Kudelkaís summer pas de deux from the Four Seasons. They looked quite different dancers in this piece than they did earlier. This was a passionate piece, with lots of dangerous looking lifts which had echoes of Macmillan. It was probably the most accessible item of the five in terms of music and presentation, and was very popular. Still, if these five items represent the best choreography being made in the world today, I canít help but feel rather depressed.

The opening item of the evening was a new work created by Siobhan Davies, A Strangerís Taste. Obviously, the outcome where Davies was working with the Royalís dancers was going to be very different from her own group with whom she has worked very closely for years. The result was not so highly worked and intricate as Davies recent work such as Wild Air, partly due perhaps to the limited preparation time available. The Royalís dancers arenít quite so at ease in her off-centre, off-balance world. I found it an interesting collaboration, if not a wholly successful one. If it has the air of an experiment, it was still one worth making and it did raise more questions in the mind about the language of dance than some of the other works that evening. Opinions among the audience differed quite dramatically, from outright dislike to great enjoyment.

The music used sounded on paper, to be a wildly disparate mixture: some 17th and 18th century music for viol and harpsichord, alternating with items of John Cage for prepared piano. In performance these blended together surprisingly well. Bruce Sansom seemed surprisingly at ease with Daviesís language, as did, more predictably, Deborah Bull. Given more time, the cast could become more at ease in their roles, and the work might read more clearly by January.

The final item was Ashley Pageís Hidden Variables, to music by Colin Matthews. This must be something like Pageís 18th or 19th work for the Royal, and it was all very familiar stuff. A set with strong lighting contrasts; large bits of the set which move at intervals for no particular reason; lots of black in the costumes for the dancers; costume changes; all these ingredients are standard Page. Thereís less overt sexuality and more abstraction than usual: in this respect, Hidden Variables is most closely modelled on his earlier Fearful Symmetries. However, it lacks the propelling urgency of Symmetriesí score. The music had been specially expanded by Matthews for this performance, but at 40 minutes it was too long and too diffuse to sustain interest.

Dancers always get to work hard in Page, and they were kept busy hurtling from one side of the stage to another. Occasionally, when Acosta partnered Mara Galeazzi and Laura Morera, something more concentrated and interesting looked about to happen. But the moment was soon lost in more waves of action. Nevertheless the work got a warm reception - for effort if nothing else.

Itís good to have them back. But it was a surprisingly downbeat evening, rather than a celebratory one.

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  Subject     Author     Message Date     ID  
  RE: Royal Ballet, International Choreography Programme, 8/12... Ann Williams 09-12-99 1
     RE: Royal Ballet, International Choreography Programme, 8/12... Jane S 09-12-99 2
  RE: Royal Ballet, International Choreography Programme, 8/12... Bruce Madmin 10-12-99 3
     RE: Royal Ballet, International Choreography Programme, 8/12... Bruce Wall 10-12-99 4

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Ann Williams

09-12-99, 06:35 PM (GMT)
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1. "RE: Royal Ballet, International Choreography Programme, 8/12/99"
In response to message #0

Many thanks for this interesting review. I'm going next Wednesday and hadn't realised that it won't be exactly the same programme - perhaps I'll fare better than you.

I am amazed that Jock Soto was dancing last night. According to a posting on Balletalert he was dancing with NYCB on Tuesday night! Does he travel faster than light? Is he in a time continuum thingy? I think we should be told.....

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Jane S

09-12-99, 09:03 PM (GMT)
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2. "RE: Royal Ballet, International Choreography Programme, 8/12/99"
In response to message #1
   Ann, the only new piece to be added next week was the Prejlocaj - but it's noticeable that there is nothing about it in the programme, although all the other choreographers get a couple of pages, and I wonder if it's actually going to happen?

Take a good book, by the way - the two intervals in the evening add up to an hour and a quarter!

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Bruce Madmin

10-12-99, 08:48 AM (GMT)
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3. "RE: Royal Ballet, International Choreography Programme, 8/12/99"
In response to message #0
   (Here are my thoughts on the first International Choreographers programme. As usual I have not dared read other reviews until I've got mine down. Now off to read what Lynette said!)

The RB opened its first season in the house with a determinedly modern slant. If the Ballet contribution to the opening Gala Celebrations had been seen as thoughtful and deftly handled, then the all-modern programme was perhaps seen as more of a challenge to make a success of. It is perhaps best seen as a bold attempt to remind us all that we only have the repertoire we do today because people took risks and put on new things in the past. Also shrewd to open the house with such a programme, given that mixed bills can be hard to sell ... except when everybody who likes dance and lives around London is desperate to see the 'new' Covent Garden.

For a mixed bill it is longer than most - at 3 hours, though that does include some long 30 minute plus intervals. What's more, I think I'm right in saying all the pieces on display are new to UK audiences. What we got were two act-long works by British choreographers and 5 shorter pieces by prominent International choreographers - come to celebrate the opening with us. Only one of these pieces was created especially for the season and there was joy and sadness in seeing that many came with non-RB dancers. It's always nice to see guests of course, but after being starved so long we really wanted to see 'our' dancers out there and showing us the new international work.

The international choreographer's pieces you get depends on which night you go and doubtless the dancers will change some as well. It's all rather kaleidoscopic as one work, in most cases a part of something larger, gets swiftly followed by another of very different style and temperament.

Peter Martins' "Barber Violin Concerto" featured Jock Soto and Darci Kistler of NYCB and was magnetic mainly because of Soto. Of Navajo Indian and Puerto Rican descent he is one hell of a beefy dancer who commands that you look at him. I find him more powerful than Mukhamedov even. Kistler is a pretty dancer, comes with a hell of a reputation, but we really need to see her in something longer. Tetley's piece (Tagore) confirms, to me anyway, that he pushes his dancers all the time, and there seems no respite for them or us. But it came with Greta Hodgkinson and Rex Harrington, of the National Ballet of Canada, and she was particularly radiant and fluent. They also danced in James Kudelka's "Four Seasons - Summer pdd" which proved a fast, inventive and athletic thrash. Kudelka created "Baiser de la fee" for BRB 3 years ago, a piece which did not do so much for his reputation in the UK, but Four seasons looked rather stronger to me.

Duato brought "Remanso" for Jonathan Cope, Inaki Urlezage and Carlos Acosta. It had jokes, athletic balances, complex solos and tight costumes: the eyes of all women visibly narrowed. For the chaps Darcey Bussell put in an appearance in a brilliant red one piece. She was dancing with Otto Bubenicek in John Neumeier's "Lento" - getting its world premiere on the night. Darcey danced well, everybody clapped loudly, but the moves seemed a wee bit ordinary if very athletic.

All-in-all this middle section of the bill had been an interesting experience and I look forward to seeing some things for a second time But it's not possible to say there was a monstrous hit and announce the arrival of a hitherto less than well known choreographer to these shores.

The evening started with Siobhan Davies's first piece for the Royal. Davies is a bastion of modern British dance and her small company has dancers in it just as accomplished, if differently, as those at the Royal. For dance fans this was probably the most anticipated piece in the bill - how would modern and ballet come together on this occasion? Well for a first "attempt" (I ignore the 13 Different Keys experiment) it was fine. Yes there were boring and pedestrian solos and silly hand jives, but at its best Davies moves blocks of dancers with a silky and speedy fluency while allowing you still to see individuals who change the whole colour and intensity of the group - it's like a shoal of fish, they move, but in very slightly different ways and time frames.

To a balletic eye it can be discordant at times as limbs just do anything but what you anticipate. If Forsythe is about speed, danger and being on the brittle edge, Davies is perhaps about a softer and a more poised angularity. The designs were marvellous consisting of simple hanging drapes which partly concealed the viola and harpsichord that were played live on stage. For me only one thing jarred and it's certainly always been my contention that one should never dance with children, animals or propellers...

The new Ashley Page was a revelation. As many will know much of his work seems to revolve around a distorted and painful view of the human condition and usually one expects to see strange cutting edge design, pouting pained expressions on the faces of all the dancers, and lots of romping and jealousy in various combinations. We have also come to expect some quite exciting and fast moving moments for groups of dancers, the odd sexy pdd and much rather boring stuff in the middle as dancers trickle on, move around some and gracelessly exit. Normally, about half way through, many in the audience are fidgeting and trying to get crafty looks at their watches.

Well it's marvellous to report that with "Hidden Variables" Page has moved on and it features smiling happy faces performing work that is both an inspiration and an uplifting joy. Not.

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Bruce Wall

10-12-99, 11:19 AM (GMT)
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4. "RE: Royal Ballet, International Choreography Programme, 8/12/99"
In response to message #3
   A few scattered thoughts:-

It was lovely to be back at the opera house. Is it my imagination or did a warren of rabbits get in and burrow a few hundred more freshly painted passages for all and sundry to navigate. Forget Hampton Court, the ROH has its own very intriguing maze which seemed to titillate all and sundry around me. The loos, however, as Crisp so freshly reported this morning, are a work of art.

As to the bill, I largely agree with what others have said. Two notes, however: The Martins -- so nice seeing him so relaxed in the House -- was wrongly included in my opinion because it makes little sense out of context, i.e., with the second movement asked to stand on its own. Without the opening movement, the second is falsely conveyed. Unfair to all. Nice to see Darci dancing, however, She has not been seen aplenty recently. Secondly, I was a bit surprised with the Davies. I would have thought that if Dowell invited her to do a piece for the opening that he would have requested that she use her own eye, admittedly a colourfully unique one, to address her own vision employing -- at least in part -- the balletic vocabulary. I was most surprised -- and disappointed -- when this proved not to be the case.

I agree with Bruce on the Page piece, only I would be more emphatic: Not 'Not!', but NEVER AGAIN! - please!

Over and out.

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