Lynette Halewood with her personal selection of London dance memories this last year…
One hundred years after its famously riot-provoking premiere, the Rite of Spring was everywhere this year. Stravinsky’s score never fails to attract choreographers but it doesn’t always bring out the best in them.
Sadler’s Wells scheduled three different takes on Rite. Fabulous Beast Dance Theatre offered the most riveting musical account of the score in the piano version for four hands, played by sisters Lidja and Sanja Bizjak. The reduction somehow brought a sharper focus and clarity which made the rustic paganism and giant rabbit heads on stage all the more surreal. The National Youth Dance Company in its inaugural season threw a cast of hundreds of all ages at it, with mixed results but including the weirdly memorable image of a toddler solemnly walking along the backs of a line of teenagers lying face down on the floor. Akram Khan dodged the issue and the music with ITMOI (in the mind of Igor). Though this was much anticipated, it turned out to be one of his less successful creations. We should have had a further version, as originally the Bolshoi were due to bring the new Rite commissioned earlier in the year from Wayne McGregor as part of a mixed bill here in August. However, as a minor part of the fallout from the horrendous events at the Bolshoi this year (the acid attack on the Artistic Director Sergei Filin, for which a member of the company has been found guilty, and many attendant sackings and power struggles) McGregor never went to Moscow to create the work.
The most successful version staged in London this year appears to be MacMillan’s for the Royal Ballet in November, which itself was itself celebrating 50 years since its creation. What a pity we did not get to see the truly scary Pina Bausch version. But if there is one version I would have loved to have seen again it would have been Paul Taylor’s take on Rite (the manic version with the baby and the red handbag). Alas we have not seen his company here in London for some time.
There have certainly been some really impressive and memorable performances from a number of dancers in different genres, and some names crop up again and again in my list of memorable performances. But this year has perhaps brought a certain disappointment in new work from established names that had been much anticipated (Hofesh Shecter’s Sun, Ratmansky’s Romeo and Juliet for National Ballet of Canada, David Dawson’s new work for the Royal), but this has been offset by some unexpected pleasures elsewhere. Every year brings its changes but this year in particular brought the retirements of a number of much-loved and much-missed performers. Mara Galeazzi and the ageless Leanne Benjamin retired from the Royal Ballet. Alina Cojocaru made an unexpected switch to English National Ballet (ENB), where Tamara Rojo (another loss to the Royal) is now Artistic Director.
These are particular memories of 2013, not necessarily a best of, but the performances and events that have stuck obstinately in the mind.
A highlight this month was English National Ballet’s Sleeping Beauty at the Coliseum with Rojo and Muntagirov in the leads. This was a bright start to a year in which the company under Rojo’s leadership went from strength to strength. Their repertoire may not be as rich as other UK companies but the dancers looked energised and watchable in everything they did.
The Royal Ballet’s all-Ashton programme at long last brought Monotones I and II back to the main stage of Covent Garden. Their lengthy absence was one of the mysteries of Monica Mason’s directorship. The dancers seem to inhabit a distant celestial realm of purity and calm far away from daily cares. It was good to have an all-Ashton programme, though there was little Ashton outside this in Kevin O’Hare’s programming. The event of the month was Tamara Rojo’s official Royal Ballet farewell performances as Marguerite in Marguerite and Armand with a returning Sergei Polunin as her partner. The self-proclaimed bad boy behaved and danced beautifully, but the focus was. rightly, on her.
But it isn’t these big news events that matter so much for the future, it’s the creation of new works that become long term elements of the repertoire,. This month also brought us new works at the Royal from Christopher Wheeldon and from Alexei Ratmansky. Wheeldon is part of the Covent Garden in-house team, Ratmansky is one of the most in-demand classical choreographers working today. Wheeldon’s Aeturnum, despite featuring the wonderful Marianella Nunez (having another excellent year) just didn’t quite gel. Ratmansky’s 24 Preludes had memorable moments without quite achieving the resonance we might have expected. Neither of these show their creators at their best and may not have a long shelf life.
March was a very packed month.
The ever-resourceful BalletBoyz commissioned new works for their 10-strong all-male company from Liam Scarlett and Russell Maliphant. It was a really satisfying and cheering evening in the theatre, with both a real success. It was interesting to see the young Scarlett operating quite a long way out of his classical comfort zone and visibly learning in the process of creating sinuous and powerful movement.
Arthur Pita’s hit Metamorphosis returned for a run in the Linbury, giving Edward Watson a chance to reprise his role as the man turned into insect. It is a riveting performance. This has been another fine year for him with compelling performances of Mayerling later in the season.
The performance of Israel Galvin at Sadler’s Wells was stunning. It was a journey based on, but going beyond, the bounds of flamenco. He has an extraordinary talent, using the simplest means to achieve an astonishing variety. He can explore different effects not just through his feet but by means you would never have considered, like beating out rhythms with his fingers on his leather jacket. His is a questing intelligence: where can the form go from here, how can it be shaped ? He is a performer I very much look forward to seeing again. Next year he collaborates on a piece with Akram Khan which comes to Sadler’s Wells in the autumn.
Osipova appeared with The Mikhailovsky in Giselle, the first of the three companies she has appeared with in London this year. She was certainly memorable with all of them, but her Giselle is a particularly thoughtful creation, a creature made out of clouds and mist with no weight at all to impede her upward motion.
The Osipova and Vasliev show continued in April in the Mikhailovsky’s production of Laurencia. If you want someone to storm the barricades, this is the woman you need. She is so intensely present and in the moment in everything she does on stage that the technical accomplishment is almost secondary. Vasliev got to enjoy some insanely virtuosic jumps and turns in Laurencia which didn’t appear in the production when it last visited.
English National Ballet’s triple bill at the Coliseum included Le Jeune homme et la Mort. This is a familiar piece, but this time it was starring Nicolas le Riche. It was a performance which makes you think that until that minute you have never really seen the work fully before and everything now makes absolute sense. Riche inhabited the piece so completely, with such authority – not a young man perhaps but someone whose fate we cared about intensely.
April also brought us the annoyingly named Puz/zle from Sidi Larbi Cherkaoiui’s company. Fortunately the dance was more engrossing than the name. His dancers manipulate a dozen or so big square grey blocks which make up the scenery and turn them into staircases and temples through which the cast journey, or walls which intimidate them. It was full of striking images.
Liam Scarlett’s first full-length work Hansel and Gretel was staged in the modest space of the Linbury, which was appropriate for its claustrophobic effects. It wasn’t a complete success by any means, but it certainly sticks in the mind, faults and all. The staging was imaginative, with the interior of the witch’s basement rising up unexpectedly in all its horror, but this didn’t always leave much room for dancing. McRae as the Sandman, who lures the children away to the house of the Witch, was truly scary, the stuff of bad dreams. With no features visible behind a doll-like mask he still emanated evil.
June was a month of goodbyes to familiar and much-loved figures. Leanne Benjamin has had an amazing golden autumn in her career: she danced her final Mary Vertsera in Mayerling, still credible as a teenage sex kitten. Mayerling had a number of fine exponents in this run. Others have probably had rather more coverage, but I was rather taken with Bennet Gartside in an unexpected shot at the lead role. It was not technically as accomplished as some others, but he had really thought the character of Rudolf through and worked out how to put it over with conviction.
It had been years since Boston Ballet had been here, and very welcome they were. They gave us a particularly sizzling version of Forsythe’s The Second Detail, powering their way through Forsythe’s deconstruction of the ballet language, sharp, honed, and hungry for space. It was a rather melancholy to contrast this with Forsythe’s own company’s performances in June which were memorable for the wrong reasons, and seemed to be headed determinedly into an arid cul de sac.
Carlos Acosta often presents a summer programme, but this year his choices were different and unusual. You wouldn’t expect the Act 3 pas de deux from Mayerling (the suicide scene) as part of this kind of show, and it’s to his credit that he managed to make it work. This gave us one last chance to see Leanne Benjamin dance the Pie Jesu from Requiem. It’s hard to imagine that anyone else will capture the child-like playfulness of this ever again.
This month dance goers were crushed under the might of the great Bolshoi ballet machine. You can’t say that their production of Sleeping Beauty isn’t memorable, at least for the décor, but though it’s impressive, there was little heart or warmth in it. Bayadere too was a grand display of technical training and achievement but with little emotion. The great exception was Ratmansky’s Flames of Paris, lit by incandescent performances from Osipova and Vasiliev again. Their performances lifted a slightly problematic narrative into an enthralling journey.
There was a strangely mixed experience in American visitors to Sadler’s Wells, Cedar Lake Contemporary Ballet and L.A. Dance Project. The latter was a mix of the really very promising indeed (a new work from NYCB dancer Justin Peck who no doubt we will be seeing a lot more of and the completely dire (a work from Benjamin Millepied, the new Artistic Director of the Paris Opera Ballet which seemed to be interminable, hours longer than its actual running time). Cedar Lake were returning after a successful previous visit. Their Ten Duets on a Theme of Rescue from Crystal Pite had moments of real tenderness and desperation, a sense of intimacy.
This month brought a wholly unexpected pleasure in the form of Dracula by Mark Bruce, performed in the atmospherically crumbling Wilton’s Music Hall. This was a stunningly designed and lit take on the original book, even following its epistolary form. Bruce has fairly modest resources and a terrifically hard-working cast, and examines the repressed urges of his female characters, as well as the unchained appetites of the still-unfulfilled vampires. At the centre of this towered Jonathan Goddard’s Dracula, emollient, persuasive, sexy, terrifying, in the single most impressive performance I saw all year.
The Royal Ballet premiered Carlos Acosta’s new version of Don Quixote to some mixed responses. It’s good that the Royal is finally moving back to the creation of full length works with another still to come this season. The production is not a complete triumph and not a disaster either. The company needs time to work its way under the skin of the roles, and some details need to be tweaked. But I loved the Don’s horse – best stuffed animal on stage of the year.
Another madly busy month to place a strain on the wallets of dedicated dance goers.
Richard Alston’s company performed at the Barbican as part of the Britten centenary celebrations. These performances were a musical highlight of the year, with the Britten Sinfonia present at the back of the stage, a seamless integration of the music and dance. Alston has a particularly fine crop of dancers at present. I was most impressed by the fine solo for Nathan Goodman as Youth in Britten’s Holderlin Fragments (beautifully sung by Robin Tritschler).
Alston featured again in the Particle Velocity bill presented by Phoenix Dance Theatre at the Linbury. Having managed to miss them for a couple of years I was delighted to catch up with a very attractive and appealing bunch of dancers and performances that featured live music and new commissions. Not all of the works appealed equally but I was impressed by Josh Wille’s stamina and commitment in a lengthy solo, Ki, by Jose Agudo.
Stuttgart Ballet brought us a mixed bill of their new commissions most of which were new to London. Inevitably this was something of a scrappy experience. The dancers were terrific: most of the choreography, less so. It seems that here, like in so many other new commissions, the budget never runs to anything to cover the men’s top halves so we are forced to contemplate their chests. It’s becoming a cliché. Time they covered up and we concentrated on the dancing.
I’m glad to say that the much-anticipated return of the Mark Morris Dance Group was a real pleasure, bring us two programmes of new works. A Wooden Tree is entertainingly bonkers and totally musical at the same time. The duet Jenn and Spencer seemed to make a move away from Morris’s typical concern with a community onstage towards a more private, introspective relationship, one that doesn’t give up its secrets on a first viewing. I hope we won’t have to wait so long before another return visit.
Wayne Eagling’s Nutcracker for ENB has its flaws as a production, but the standard of dancing from the company is excellent right now. The partnership of Daria Klimentova and Vadim Muntagirov is a joy to watch. He presents her as if she is a precious jewel whose facets he turns to catch the light. Their account of the grand pas de deux was glorious, with everything unfolding with an ease and calm inevitability.