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November '99 Newsletter from London


November Preview

After an extremely hectic and heady October for London dance buffs, November continues at a more sedate pace, but still has a fair helping of goodies. Dance Umbrella concludes with some more exciting work from around the world:

  • Bill T Jones has been visiting London regularly ever since his first appearance in the 1981 Dance Umbrella. In his last visit, a couple of years ago at the Peacock, he gained rave reviews both for his choreography and the high quality of his dancers. This time Jones presents a solo project, 'The Breathing Show', blending dance, film and conversation. A rare chance to see and listen to one of today's leading dance artists.
  • Nigel Charnock at Greenwich Dance Agency is doing something rather intriguing. 'The Room' is exactly that, with the audience on the outside looking in, while the performers improvise.
  • Dance Umbrella ends with 'Sportarama - a high impact sports/dance extravaganza'. Over the past few years, Dance Umbrella has built a formidable reputation for site specific work, including 'Genesis Canyon' and 'Babel Index'. However, the 'Sportarama' choreographer, Lea Anderson also has a strong track record with the Cholmondeleys and the Featherstonehaughs and this genre is one of her specialities. So an innovative and exciting performance can be expected.

Elsewhere ballet fans have two short seasons to help stave off the withdrawal symptoms, before the re-opening of the ROH in December. City of London Ballet is at The Peacock in the second week of November with a show based on Latin rhythms. I have always had a soft spot for this company as they take dance to places that other companies don't reach. Currently they have a good crop of dancers and works by North, von Manen and Hampson, together with a couple of classical pdds, have pleased audiences members as it has toured the land. For a change, here are the comments of a dedicated dance fan, Bruce Marriott, on his own wonderful site,

More difficult to assess is Norwegian National Ballet's version of 'Romeo and Juliet' by Michael Corder. I have to confess I do have a bit of a blind spot when it comes to Mr. Corder's work, but maybe this one will convince me. Details are in London Dance Net's Calendar.

Wayne MacGregor's Random Dance perform 'Sulphur 16' at the Battersea Arts Centre on the 8-9th. The show has received much critical praise and this could be the last time to see it in London for a while.

Finally, at the end of the month, Rambert return to Sadler's Wells with Christopher Bruce's new full-length work, 'God's Plenty'. The critics have expressed mixed views at the early performances on tour, but I have spoken to people who loved it. I guess we now have the chance to make up our own minds. However, no doubts have been expressed over 'Ghost Dances', which is revived in the second week of the London season. One of Bruce's most successful works, it strikes great resonance for many of us at a time when Pinochet is under house arrest to answer to charges that were part of the inspiration for the work. I interviewed Bruce on the theme of Dance and Human Rights for The Amnesty International Newsletter. Details of performances are in London Dance Net's Calendar.

October Round-up

San Francisco Ballet
We were expecting SFB to be good, but in the event they were fab. It was love at first sight as the opening Gala gave nearly all the Principals and Soloists a chance to show what they can do and we realised the depth of talent in the Company. I was impressed throughout the week by the way that their dancers captured the spirit of each of the works on show. Given the problems that arise with 'getting-in' any work into a new theatre, I'm grateful that SFB went to the trouble to show us three different programmes in a mere 6 days.

What were my main impressions? In The Gala, the men made a big impact with David Palmer in Tomasson's 'Two Bits' giving a powerful, fluent performance in this fast, sexy pdd and Guennadi Nedviguine spinning like a top and enjoying every minute of van Manen's 'Solo'.

If the Gala served some delightful canapés, the Mixed Bill of Balanchine, Robbins and Morris offered us more substantial fare. Robbins 'Cage' gave Lucia Lacarra a role full of quick and pliant movements, as a man-devouring insect, instructed by the vicious Queen of Muriel Maffre. As one company member said to me, 'It's as if this 1951 work had been made on her.' The programme ended with 'Sandpaper Ballet' by Mark Morris and it was a sheer delight for us and also for the massed ranks of SFB dancers, who revelled in the witty use of geometry and varied dance forms that Morris has brought to the jolly tunes of Leroy Anderson.

The week closed with Tomasson's 'Swan Lake' with four different Odette/Odiles. I agree with those who thought that Tomasson's choreography worked well at times, but was put in the shade by the original Petipa/Ivanov sections that remained. Act IV especially seemed not to be firing on all cylinders. However, both Joanna Berman and Lacarra were heart-breakingly touching as the tragic Odette and wickedly enticing as Odile, in contrasted, technically assured interpretations.

This was such an important first London visit that I have placed a number of the various press reviews in our Forum section. The Company have set a high standard to match when they next visit, but under Tomasson's fine leadership, I'm confident they will continue to delight us.

Dance Umbrella
Humour played an important part in a number of the Dance Umbrella events that I attended. The ubiquitous Mark Morris brought his own company to London for the first time in a long time. They were very well received and their version of 'The Argument' made a satisfying contrast to the Baryshnikov version seen here earlier in the summer. I preferred the opening 'Gloria' to the more recent 'Rhymes with Silver', but both works used a wide palette in distinctive fashion. Morris likes England and is on record as saying, 'In England, if you make a joke people laugh. In the States, if you make a joke, you are a joke.' Judith Mackrell in The Guardian loved every minute.

Aletta Collins brought two solos and 'Alice is back in Wonderland' to The Place. The quartet, 'Alice' is rich in choreographic invention and good humour and is a beautifully crafted, accessible work. Collins and her three collaborators danced with great skill and elan. In a post performance talk, Collins was asked about the humour in the work and she told us that she likes to have a good time in the rehearsal studio. Long may it continue.

Richard Move's homage to Martha Graham was also good fun, as well as being a sincere tribute to the gifted pioneer. The Graham trained trio of women dancers gave powerful interpretations of excepts from key works with Reid Hitchins (you know - Playgirl Magazine's 25th Anniversary centrefold) playing the scantily dressed male roles. In one of the solo spots, Tom Sapsford mimed deliciously to one of Judy Garland's monologues and then gave us his own exhilarating dance to one of her songs. In another, Wayne McGregor showed us why he has such a reputation for theatrical innovation and dynamic movement.

Finally we had the pleasure of Irek Mukhamedev and Company. Of the two solos for Irek and Altynai Asylmuratova, I thought that Roland Petit's Bolero was exquisitely danced tosh. However, William Tuckett's 'Louis Armstrong (…when angels fly…)' was a delightful, romantic piece set to some of the great man's songs. In Ashley Page's 'Quartet' Mara Galeazzi and Yohei Sasaki danced with grace and precision. Here are Debra Craine's views in The Times.

Thus ends a remarkable month of dance in London. At the outset, I had been worried about the onset of indigestion. As it turned out, I was still going back for seconds and thirds as October drew to a close. Have fun in November.

Stuart Sweeney (courtesy of London Dance Network)

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