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January 2000 Newsletter from London

 

January Preview

Those recovering from too much turkey, Christmas pud and too many Nutcrackers, can look forward to January. We are offered no less than 6 different programmes from the Royal Ballet and English National Ballet and more than 50 pieces of contemporary dance at The Place from some of the brightest hopes in the UK and Continental Europe.

The Royal Ballet

The Royal Ballet continues with 'The Nutcracker' in the first part of the month and this revised version of Peter Wright's production has received many accolades and much sympathy for the performers as they struggle to cope with non-functioning technology. While it came as no surprise that Bert Fry in Radio 4s 'The Archers' had difficulties with the special effects in the Ambridge amateur panto, perhaps it was a surprise that the £200+m ROH would suffer the same way. Judith Mackrell in 'The Guardian' put mere mechanics to one side and was delighted with the dancers and the production.

The International Choreographers Season has three more showings in the second half of the month. This was the opening Royal Ballet programme in the new ROH and it was a courageous choice to shun the classics. The format consists of two, new 40 minute works, by contemporary dance choreographer, Sue Davies and the RB's own Ashley Page and a central section of short pieces by leading choreographers from around the world. Both of the longer works have been well-received by some and disliked by others. Opinions are very mixed about the snippets from Martins, Kudulka, etc. The exception has been Nacho Duato's enjoyable 'Remanso'. Ismene Brown found the evening a frustrating affair.

The new RB programme in January is 'The MacMillan Inheritance'. I'm particularly looking forward to 'Gloria', after an excerpt received rapturous praise at the ROH Opening Event. The other works in the triple bill are 'Concerto' and 'Rituals'.

English National Ballet

ENB also continue with their 'Nutcracker' at the start of the month. The 1st Act is rather like the curate's egg. The party has tepid tango pastiche steps and Drosselmeyer's apparent infatuation with the under-age Clara, makes many of us feel uncomfortable. When the wooden toys come to life, the Robot doll, has some of the dullest movement ever seen on the London stage and the Michael Jackson doll shows that it's not easy to dance as well as Mr Jackson.

Once into the Snow Scene things pick up considerably and continue through the 2nd Act. I felt priviliged to see the exquisite technique and expressive style of Agnes Oakes as the Sugar Plum Fairy and enjoyed the scintillating Yat Sen Chang as the Russian dancer. Sarah McIlroy and Felipe Diaz performed with verve in the Spanish dance.

In the second week of January, ENB bring us a fascinating triple bill with Glen Tetley's 'Sphinx', MacMillan's 'Rite of Spring' and the 2nd Act of 'The Bayadere' and to close the Coliseum season, 'Coppelia'.

Miscellany

Another ballet possibility for the first part of January is Atlanta Ballet's 'Peter Pan', which has received positive recommendations, particularly for those with children. Donald Hutera in 'The Times' really enjoyed himself.

For further details of all the ballet events above, may I commend ballet.co Listings.

January 6th sees the start of Resolution! at The Place. There are three companies on display at each performance, over a 6-week period, giving a large number of both new and more experienced choreographers and dancers a chance to make their mark. With so much choice, the problem is deciding which ones to see. One option is simply to go when you have a free night and take pot luck, which worked for me when I tried it last year. Alternatively, Nicole Matthews of The Place Theatre provides some hints and clues, including the selection of Continental companies and two pieces by current Rambert dancers. The briefing also includes a contact number for full details.

The 18 performers of Modern Dance Turkey visit the Bloomsbury Theatre (Tel. 020 7388 8822) on the13/14 January with a piece by Mark Baldwin and two other works by company members.

 

December Round-up

Rambert Dance Company

Rambert enjoyed great success in their second week at Sadler's Wells with two triple bills. In particular, audiences and the London critics were bowled over by the revival of 'Ghost Dances'. The work was inspired by the plight of South American peasants through the ages and the murder of Chilean musician Victor Jara by Pinochet's forces. The Andean tunes provide an excellent setting for the folk dance choreography of the peasants in contrast to the silence, which usually accompanies the chilling, predatory steps of the 'Ghosts'. Of the other two pieces in the first programme, my impression was that the Company are now dancing both Cunningham's 'August Pace' and Tharp's 'Golden Section' much more convincingly, after a year of relaxing into these two demanding works.

In the second programme, I was very impressed by Didi Veldman's portrayal of the prisoner in Christopher Bruce's 'Swansong'. This role must be one of the most demanding for any dancer and Veldman drew out with great skill the poignant beauty of the solos and alternating defiance and fear in the interrogation scenes. 'Swansong' is currently a set work for examinations for both GCSE and A/L and it is heartening to think that young people are studying the work's choreographic and theatrical innovations of the piece and seeing how dance can successfully depict a theme such as oppression.

During the week, the dancers who particularly caught my eye were, as always, the amazingly quick and fluent Matthew Hart and Patti Hines, who used her fine technique and graceful style in many of the works on show. Rafael Bonachela also impressed by putting his own stamp on Cunningham's steps in 'August Pace' and dancing with fluent musicality in 'Ghost Dances'.

It was good to see Rambert on top form and their rep for 2000, including revivals of two Glen Tetley works, also looks exciting.

ROH Opening Gala

The ROH reopened in great style with a Gala Evening for the glitterati. However, I was rather surprised that Mrs. Thatcher was invited, given her indifference to the Arts both in and out of power.

Everyone agreed that The Royal Ballet put on a much more successful show than The Royal Opera. A good way to start given the gross disparity between the treatment of the two companies in the past. Someone suggested that the venue be renamed the Royal Ballet House and even some of the opera critics had to admit that their art form had come out a bad second. But it's wrong to gloat - well, not for too long anyway. Here are the detailed comments of a dedicated dance fan, Lynette Halewood, writing for Ballet.co.uk.

Elsewhere

An intriguing event took place in the Ballroom at the Royal Festival Hall, where Aletta Collins choreographed a version of 'The Snow Queen' using the installations on the same theme, created by Andrey Bartenev. Judith Mackrell found it enjoyable.

Sadly, apart from some individual scenes and characters, none of the London critics seemed to enjoy 'Dick Whittington' and I have to say that I found it overlong and desperately short of good jokes. I was looking forward to seeing Jayne Regan, one of the best dance drama performers in the UK, but in the event she was limited to a 5-minute pdd. In 'The Times', Benedict Nightingale's frustration reflects a common view.

With the Royal Opera House, Sadler's Wells, The Place, The Peacock and events at a number of other venues large and small, the coming year is full of promise for dance lovers in London. Especially now that the concerns regarding Y2K problems with opera glasses and pointe shoes are safely behind us.

 

Stuart Sweeney


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