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December '99 Newsletter from London

 

Preview

December is a great month for London dance lovers….. as long as you like 'The Nutcracker'. This will be the second year running that two of the three major UK ballet companies, (this time ENB and RB) will be performing the archetypal Christmas show in London. I don't have a problem with the piece as such, with its good tunes and scope for virtuoso dancing. The problem is the way it just takes over. However, it is a sure-fire hit and gets bums on seats, which is vital for cash starved dance companies. In addition, some make the case that it is a great introduction to ballet, but it would be interesting to see some evidence to show that it provides a cross-selling opportunity.

I think it is fair to say that it is not a favourite with dancers, but in North America and now BRB there is a tradition of the performers letting their hair down for the Christmas Eve performance. Olivier Wevers of Pacific Northwest Ballet recounts how the Artistic Directors stay away from the theatre that night, after giving stern warnings that things are not to get too far out of control. Nevertheless, a snowball fight in the snow scene is still de rigeur.

It is to the great credit of The Royal Ballet that it greets the re-opening of the Opera House with new pieces by Siobhan Davies and Ashley Page plus a selection of titbits, hopefully not indigestible, from some of the best known international choreographers. However, in the opening ten weeks, out of 26 ballet performances, no less than 15 are N********ers. It will of course be fascinating to see the new venue. I do hope that the visibility for ballet is improved and that the basic adherence to the old design has not given the architects an impossible task in this respect.

ENB has some of the finest dancers in the country and it is great to see them in 24 performances at the Coliseum in December, but I do wish that they weren't all ************. All right, I'll stop being a spoilsport; to be fair we do get a few performances of a triple bill and 'Coppelia' in January as part of the Coliseum season.

Elsewhere, for those looking for different seasonal fayre, The Royal Festival Hall brings Atlanta Ballet's 'Peter Pan' and there is a press release about it in our Forum section.

At the very start of the month, we have two exciting triple bills from Rambert at Sadler's Wells with work from a range of fine choreographers including Cunningham, Tharp and Bruce himself. I am looking forward to Didi Veldman's performance as the prisoner in 'Swansong' and the London premiere of her 'Greymatter'. In our Forum, there is a Posting about the tie-in with Amnesty International for the week, reflecting the human rights context of both 'Swansong' and 'Ghost Dances'.

For details of times and booking arrangements of the above, can I recommend the Listings on ballet.co.uk

 

November Round-up

Dance Umbrella

1999s Dance Umbrella went out in style with some fascinating and innovative performances:

  • Russell Maliphant is one of the treasures of UK dance and the performance of his company at The Place was one of the month's high spots. His solo, 'One' showed what a superb dancer he is and the delicious, fluid movement of the work was a delight. Another solo, 'Two' with Dana Fouras, used lighting design by Michael Hulls, which pushed back the frontiers of what can be achieved. In the final stages, a hollow cone of light illuminates the rapid steps so that arms and legs became scintillating flashes of movement. This was one of the most exciting visual displays I have seen in a long time in any medium. The second half gave us 'Liquid Reflex' for four dancers, which has interesting gestural work, but suffered by comparison with the brilliance of the earlier solos. Perhaps a reversal of running order would give it a better chance to make its mark.
  • Bill T Jones brought his autobiographical solo show to Sadler's Wells and we saw a combination of dance, monologue, film and one or two short happenings. The programme started rather slowly with Jones performing to Schubert songs, but perked up considerably when he sang 'The Old Grey Goose is Dead', while dancing at the same time. Given that he was winning awards as long ago as 1979, he remains an accomplished dancer in great condition. To give himself a breather, he showed us two filmed interludes including an amazing computer graphics display, 'Ghostcatching' with a stylised white outline of Jones against a black background. The show tries to give us some sense of what it is like to be the charming, intelligent and gifted Mr Jones and it achieves this with much elegance.
  • At Greenwich Dance Agency, Nigel Charnock presented his 'Room' and Ismene Brown in 'The DailyTelegraph' was intrigued. Dance Umbrella closed with Lea Anderson's 'Sportarama' which was greatly appreciated by Allen Robertson in 'The Times'.

Norwegian Festival

A double dose of Norwegian dance in contrasting forms came to London in November. Norwegian National Ballet gave us the first UK showing of Michael Corder's 'Romeo and Juliet' to the Prokofiev score - probably my favourite piece of ballet music. I enjoyed the evening, but Michael Corder's reading has a fairy story look and doesn't have the emotional punch of the MacMillan version; perhaps it's unfair to make comparisons with one of the greatest choreographers of the 20th Century. The two Principals, Richard Suttie and Beatrix Balazs danced well and the ensemble work was well drilled.

For the last decade England has regularly lost to Norway at football. However, we received some recompense with a Norwegian piece called, 'A Dance Tribute to the Art of Football' by the Jo Strømgren Kompani. Sadly, this was one I missed, but all the critics were very positive - an unusual occurrence. Here is a review from 'The Guardian' with some background as well.

Rambert's 'God's Plenty'

I also enjoyed 'God's Plenty', especially at the start - the lighting and variable rectangular framing are terrific. In the Prelude, I admired the Shaman dance with Paul Liburd and Hope Muir and the solos for Conor O'Brien as a Crusader and Didi Veldman as Constance. I love mediaeval music and the arrangements of the old tunes worked well for the most part with occasional moments of over-arrangement.

I confess that I didn't enjoy the actual Tales as much. I think the Narrator does not help and their episodic nature does not tend towards a harmonious dance work. Nevertheless, The Miller's Tale has spark and fine dancing from Matthew Hart and Brendan Faulls and amusing acting from a heavily disguised Conor O'Brien.

Overall the positive thoughts that I had after the first hour of largely non-narrative mood setting were eroded, to some extent, by the Tales themselves. Pure dance rules, OK.

In Brief

City London of Ballet visited The Peacock with 'Viva'. The programme sizzled a little intermittently, but Benito Marcelino raised the temperature whenever he was on stage. The final work, Robert North's 'Entre Dos Aguas', had plenty of spark and the CLB dancers gave it their all with Peter Ottevanger impressive as the male lead.

Union Dance had a hit with 'Life Forms' at The Queen Elizabeth Hall and Clement Crisp in 'The Financial Times' enjoyed the work. Sadly, FT links don't usually last long.

As befits the last Newsletter of the Millennium, I thought I would end with a detailed overview of dance over the past 1000 years. However, the Boss has said that this website is to be a Millennium free zone, so my 180,000-word summary will have to be saved for the next one. Have an excellent Christmas and at least a tolerable New Year.

Stuart Sweeney


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