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Subject: "Review - RB Diaghilev Programme 6/5/00" Archived thread - Read only
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Conferences What's Happening Topic #685
Reading Topic #685
Bruce Madmin

07-05-00, 11:42 PM (GMT)
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"Review - RB Diaghilev Programme 6/5/00"
I hope the Diaghilev programme sells well for the Royal - it deserves to if only that we see so little of dance from that era and any company is to be encouraged for keeping up the diversity of what has been achieved in dance. Of course the burning question is were the works performed well and in the appropriate style - whatever that may be?

It's sometimes hard to answer that question at a first night I think - especially as the Royal have been prone to be a little under rehearsed at openings. But I found it a fascinating evening overall and far too much to take in at one sitting.

The piece I expected to enjoy was Les Biches by Nijinska, to a buoyant Poulenc score, about the rich enjoying house parties down on the Mediterranean in the 1920's. It's an observant piece of social history as much as an ironic look at the lives of a precious few. I remember seeing it in the early 90's, with Darcey Bussell as the Hostess with the mostest, and those incredible backbreaking bends that go on in it. However of all the pieces in the evening I found this the least satisfactory with every appearance of less than full rehearsal and even Darcey seemed a bit detached and far away.

The three boys were Jonathan Cope, Inaki Urlezaga and Nigel Burley - all big lads who looked suitably the centre of attention. Cope and Urlezaga were technically there but Burley was well adrift in comparison. Mara Galeazzi was the Girl in Blue. Ambiguous Page Boy seems a better description of the role - all sombre and distant and a role that demands good, clean, technique. Mara looked well groomed in it. It will be nice to see Les Biches again when it has settled down.

The Firebird was the other piece that has been long in the RB repertoire and gets dusted off every few years. I'm pleased to say it all seemed much better rehearsed as well - apart from the odd dropped apple here and there.

I find The Firebird a fascinating piece as Fokine - the choreographer - was consciously striving for new ways in ballet, and yet it closes on one of the most traditional of 19th century endings with the wedding of prince and princess and everybody lined up to pay homage - all except the Firebird that is. And yet it starts in such an intimate way and if it was being reworked today one feels that that intimacy would probably be maintained. But I'm not complaining: the fun in keeping such works alive is that they act as different inspirations to us. Enough of the philosophising.

Leanne Benjamin was just marvellous as the The Firebird - all the dramatic ability that we associate with her brought to bear on a somewhat more classical role. I was particularly struck by the power of her jumps and just how bird like and 'flighty' she was. Yet again I made a mental note to see more of her. Burley was Ivan Tsarevich (the prince) and looked fine enough, though Fokine's choreography for the man I always think looks a bit soppy. Genesia Rosato was the Beautiful Tsarevna - a chilling love well portrayed. But David Drew as the Immortal Kostchei was in terrific form and has the most grotesque of costumes. If this were private enterprise then Kostchei/Drew would be spun-off to become the centre of a new ballet for the Christmas children's market and we could all go "boo", "behind you" and be scared... Kostchei is just horribly evil and makes Carabosse look like a bridge-playing maiden aunt from Devises.

And so to the fresh meat - two Royal Ballet premieres of works by Nijinsky. A legend of a dancer but who went mad quite early in life and robbed the world of both his performances and more choreography.

Allen Robertson and Donald Hutera (in the Dance Handbook) say L'Apres-midi d'un faune "is an essay in stylised eroticism" and that covers it well I think. Considering it was choreographed by a legend of a dancer it is surprising to see that it concentrates so much on drama and acting - there are no big jumps or showy technical choreography here.

The story is simple: a faun is sunning itself, some Greek nymphs come by and dawdle a little, the Faun plays with them and when the nymphs go a scarf is left that he finds, takes back to place in the sun, and uses, in the nicest possible way, as a sexual object as the curtain comes down. It still shocks far more than if the Nymph had actually been there instead of the scarf. Irek Mukhamedov was the Faun and has the acting skill to bring such an amazing role to life - a spell-binding performance. While some of the movement, particularly for the Nymphs seems coy or a little dull even, this is an amazing work and deserves its place in history and 21st century ballet programmes.

Perhaps it's harder to see if Jeux will stay in the repertoire. This has been painstakingly reconstructed by Millicent Hodson and is about love and sexuality in the context of a nocturnal tennis party in London's Bedford Square - you know the type of thing, we've all been there haven't we! Superficially it's all rather 'super' as the three dancers involved (Bruce Sansom, Deborah Bull and Gillian Revie) love a little, fall out and get jealous this way and that, but all with such terrifically civilised manners. It has some of the same full frontal and compressed/squashed choreographic look of Faun, but otherwise does not seem so obviously inventive of story or movement. But there is a lot going on here and I suspect the enjoyment will be in unravelling the story and learning much more.

There are six more performances of this programme and it plays through until the 20th May. One to catch if you can.

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  Subject     Author     Message Date     ID  
  RE: Review - RB Diaghilev Programme 6/5/00 alison 08-05-00 1
  RE: Review - RB Diaghilev Programme 6/5/00 cicada 25-09-00 2

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08-05-00, 01:18 PM (GMT)
Click to EMail alison Click to send private message to alison Click to view user profileClick to add this user to your buddy list  
1. "RE: Review - RB Diaghilev Programme 6/5/00"
In response to message #0
   LAST EDITED ON 09-May-00 AT 12:54 PM (GMT)

Well, leaving the dancing aside, I have to admit to being very disappointed with the RB's Firebird production. Having missed it on its last two incarnations, and seen the Kirov production on several occasions, I just didn't feel that it stood up so well. I'd previously seen the Fonteyn/Somes version on video, but don't remember whether it had the same faults. The stage was so darkly lit (okay, perhaps it *was* twilight, but even so ...) that you could scarcely see the tree with the golden apples, let alone the rest of the scenery at the back. No ramp for the princesses to process down, just a hole in the hedge for them to pass so that they can each be seen for a moment, and then a gate to enter by; no walls made of petrified (as in "turned to stone") knights. Kostchei's followers seemed to be less luridly/scarily dressed than in the Kirov version, and there seemed to be fewer of them, although that's not a particular problem.

The biggest disappointment, however, was the dénouement: Ivan has the egg containing Kostchei's soul and drops it (incidentally, it didn't crack - the lights just went out - not sure whether that was intentional or not, but surely the props department can come up with an egg which cracks?) and then we have a blackout for a couple of minutes, then the lights come back on and the "city" backdrop is in place and the coronation/wedding or whatever it is actually takes place. There's no sense of the magic spells being broken as Kostchei dies: no stone knights turning back into human form (so they can marry the other princesses?), no reunion of the Tsarevna and Ivan, and certainly, since the city backdrop is already statically in place (rather than rising from the ground) when the lights come up again, no sense of the death of the old, Pagan Russia and the arising of the new, Holy Russia from its ruins, which I thought was what the last couple of minutes was supposed to symbolise. All that beautiful, stunningly powerful music at the end went for nothing. Now, possibly, this might have had something to do with the notorious scene-changing problems at the ROH since it reopened, but I don't really think so. My verdict: go and see the Kirov version.

However, I would have to say that I thought Benjamin very good in the title role - and she managed to project as far as the back of the amphitheatre, which is no mean feat. Burley made rather less of an impression than I had expected after seeing him at the masterclass last week. Still, as Bruce says, the role really is a bit thankless.

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25-09-00, 01:09 AM (GMT)
Click to EMail cicada Click to send private message to cicada Click to add this user to your buddy list  
2. "RE: Review - RB Diaghilev Programme 6/5/00"
In response to message #0
   Enjoyed your review very much. Wish I could have seen the Nijinsky program. I wonder if you could let me know how to reach Millicent Hodson? (Your message was one of the very few concerning her Nijinsky reconstructions.) Many thanks. C. Neiman, New York

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