Carmen (RNZB 2017)

March 27, 2017 at 9:44 am | Posted in Ballet Review, Dance Review, Show Review | Leave a comment
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The other night, I went to see the Royal new Zealand Ballet production of Roland Petit‘s Carmen, preceded by Petit’s L’Arlesienne, at the St James Theatre in Wellington. Petit’s Carmen is recognised as a significant neoclassical ballet. But I found L’Arlesienne a much gentler introduction to neoclassical ballet.

L’Arlesienne tells the story of a young man in a village set to marry a woman, yet obsessed with another, invisible, women. Frederi (danced by Massimo Margaria) clearly does not love Vivette (Katie Hurst-Saxon); who loves him and is confused by his distracted behaviour. Their pas de deuxs are choregraphed to emphasis their lack of connection; Viviette tries and tries, but Frederie is almost always facing away and cold.

The choreography for the rest of the villagers is geometric, yet without the grandeur of a romantic ballet. The villagers are starkly dressed and that is their general lot. Against a simple impressionist rendering of golden fields, the young villagers pair off and go about their lives.

Petit re-purposes the circular path so often used in romantic ballets to show joy, happiness, and love, into some darker, angst, yearning, and despair. The part of Frederi is a taxing role. In the final sequences, he is on stage constantly, working himself into every more frantic circles till he finally does a swan dive out a window – killing himself. Margaria does well, he is able to mute his power to stay within the role. Hurst-Saxon is by turns portrays confounded and confused.

After the interval the Company changed gears and put on Petit’s Carmen. This was nothing like the Company’s previous production of Carmen. Petit’s version  is shorter, condensed, and gritter. Don Jose is no sooner convinced that he is love with Carmen, than he has killed her; the story is pared down to the basics, as is the set.

Natalya Kusch, is a fiery independent  Carmen; her pose and attitude completely enslaves Don Jose – danced by Joseph Skelton. Paul Mathews, as the Toreador, has the difficult task of dancing a parody of Don Jose identifying moves – which he does, assisted by a suit of light that looks more like a clown suit!

The final scene when Don Jose overcome by jealousy stabs and kills Carmen shows the genius of Jean-Michel Desire – the lighting designer. A dimmed stage with minimalist props is used as backdrop for spot lights set at the edge of the stage. As Kusch and Skelton dance their pas de deux of death, their shadows fly around the stage – magnifying the emotions and interplay of the dancers. Carmen is defiant; Don Jose is possessive, frantic, desperate, and ultimately stupid.

Carmen is a disturbing story.

George Bizet’s music used in both pieces – provides the perfect emotional backdrop.

Worth seeing. Especially, since Francesco Ventriglia, the choreographer, danced in productions of Carmen, staged by Petit; and worked as a choreographer with Petit.

Swan Lake (RNZB: 2013)

July 27, 2013 at 7:23 am | Posted in Ballet Review, Dance Review | Leave a comment
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Last weekend I went to see the Royal New Zealand Ballet’s 2013 production of Swan Lake. Warning: plot revealed.

Main cast:

  • Odette/Odile: Gillian Murphy
  • Siefried: Karel Cruz
  • Jester: Rory Fairweather-Neylan
  • Rothbart: Paul Mathews

Rory Fairweather-Neylan almost steals the show. I have always liked version(s) that include the Jester. The role is technically demanding and artistically demanding – he does well. The <Jester’s choreography acts as an overture for Siefried’s choreography.

Karel Cruz is very eye catching – he must be one of the tallest ‘leading men’ in the ballet world. His superb technique and height give him considerable stage presence; at times, the St James stage seems too small. The elevation he achieves with his jumps; the control in his pirouettes; and the strength in his lifts are just amazing.

Ms Murphy is wonderful. Her fouettes like the rest of her technical repertoire were complete. I made a conscious effort not to count them in Act III, choosing instead to focus on the wonderful artistry and mime.

Siefried and Odette (Cruz and Murphy) achieve a lyrical romantic partnering in Act II. The lyrical pas de deux creates such a sense that they are destined to be together, that the relatively energetic dance of the cygnets (ably dance by Katherine Grange, Adrianna Harper, Bronte Kelly, and Tonia Looker) seems a little out of place.

This version gave Rothbart a much expanded role, compared to other versions. Rothbart does much more than merely produce Odile (disguised as Odette) at the ball. Paul Mathews must manipulate the swans – particularly Odette through his black magic; and has a major showdown with Siefried in Act IV.

I like the happy ending: the lovers don’t die – they are together ! There is also a very touching moment when the swans are freed from their enthrallment.

The structure of the ballet is very clever, and one piece of choreography leads to the next. One example of this is the use of the Jester to provide an introduction to Siefried’s choreography – the Jester’s choreography is a comic version of the latter. Another example, is the use of big swans to bridge the visual gap between the cygnets and the traditionally small swans at the front of the bevy, and the larger and grander Odette, who is effectively their queen. Abigail Boyle and Antonia Hewitt nicely portray two ‘senior’ swans.

Sir Jon Trimmer, once again played the part of WolfGang the Prince’s tutor. He danced this role 17 years ago.

The music is provided by the New Zealand Symphony Orchestra. The costumes were bright, intricate and detailed; very fitting a production that marks the Company’s 60th Anniversary. There appeared to be many past members in the audience that night.

A must see.

Carmen – The ballet

June 10, 2010 at 1:37 am | Posted in Ballet Review, Dance Review | 1 Comment
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I went to the opening night of the Royal New Zealand Ballet‘s 2010 production of Carmen, at the St James Theatre in Wellington.Warning: plot revealed.

I grew up listening to Carmen; its seemed like whenever dad had a moment he would put on a vinyl record of Bizet‘s opera. Being in a foreign language, it was years later that I found out what all of the drama and emotion was about. I watched: Carmen Jones many years ago; a DVD with Julia Migenes and Plácido Domingo singing the lead roles some years ago; and Matthew Bourne’s The Car Man a few years ago. So I was curious to see how it would all turn out.

Setting: definitely not Spain! a little bit of Havana and sports-bar blended together.

Main roles: Carmen – Abigail Boyle; Jose – Christopher Hinton-Lewis; Michaela – Katie Hurst-Saxton; and Escamillo – Jaered Glavin. Abigail Boyle was wonderful as Carmen: dangerously attractive, confident, strong, and very much her own women. Katie Hurst-Saxton in a very unflattering frock and hair-do, was every inch the homely jilted fiance.

The Ballet was in three short Acts. The First Act was a little slow, but sets the foundation for the other two Acts: Michaela, Jose (a factory guard), and Carmen (a worker in the factory) are introduced. Michaela’s devotion to Jose is obvious; equally, Jose’s is not so clear.

In the Second Act, Jose’s ordered world is turned upside down. He is led by Carmen off the straight an narrow path that he seemed destined for – corporal of the guard, destined for higher things; marriage and children. Jose has a wonderful sequence with Carmen in the bar where she gradually creates a connection with him, that sees him forsake his duty in favour of spending time with Carmen. The Second Act ends with a great love scene between Jose and Carmen, when he is hiding in the latter’s digs – having accidentally killed the Chief of Police (Paul Mathews).

In the Third Act, Jose’s world falls apart completely: he burns his bridges with the unfortunate Michaela, and finds that he has lost Carmen to Escamillo – a rock star! The end is very tradgic – as always; maybe a modern feminist ending would see a slightly different result.

The re-mix of Escamillo (looking like Billy Idol) as a rock star (a modern day toreador) is an inspired adaption by Didy Veldman. All of the traditional toredor scenes are set to an electric rock rendition of the traditional music. Jaered Glavin’s hip swinging portrayl drew many warm responses from the crowd.

All-in-all quite good: really enjoyed the second and third acts.

I went on opening night and found that Pieter Symonds was not dancing; so that was a little disappointing. What was also disappointing were the seats: the sets have a definite house-right bias, and I ended up in seats that favoured a house-left bias. Consequently, I missed some of Carmen’s entrances in the First Act, and the (clever) video clip at the beginning of the Second Act – showing Carmen’s flight and subsequent re-capture.

Oh yes; or rather no; no pointe work, and no singing or vocals.

Don Quixote

November 6, 2008 at 8:41 pm | Posted in Ballet Review, Show Review | Leave a comment
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I went to the opening night of Royal New Zealand Ballet’s new production of Don Quixote at the St. James, in Wellington. Warning: plot revealed.

Oct 31, 2008 by Show_Hanger

This re-working of the Don Quixote story is as much about creating a new perspective on a traditional story as celebrating a Sir Jon Trimmer’s 50th year with the Royal New Zealand Ballet. At 69, Sir Jon no longer dances the vigourous roles he took on earlier in his career, instead he has matured into a fine stage actor. So the role of the aging, and sometimes confused, Don is a perfect vehicle for his talents. Gary Harris has, I am told, for I have not seen the classic Russian version, utilised the original Petipa choreography in a new light, that makes the Don less of a 2-dimensional character. Adrian Burnett was the choreographer for this production.

Act I opens with the Don in bed surrounded by his books and visited by his nephew – Sancho, danced by Matthew Braun. The Don decides that he will have one last adventure and takes one of his journals with him to guide them on their journey, and takes a hefty bag of money to pay the way. The Don and Sancho have an english air to them – the Don is World War II British pilot’s leather flying helmut and sheep skin jacket, Sancho in a set of tweeds. The two of them end-up in a mediterranean village where we are introduced to the other main characters: Gamache and Mercedes; Basilio and Kitri.

The set for the village is wonderful, with a major surprise for me: the floor was a creamy colour – rather than the usual black. It made the set very bright and enhanced the mediterranean feel.

Kitri is ably danced by Yu Takayama: her grand jetes and sissones were superb. Basilio – Kitri’s future husband – is danced by Marc Cassidy. The villian – Gamache – is able danced by Paul Mathews. His principle moll – Mercedes – is danced by Abigail Boyle.

Act II sees: Kitri and Basilio run off into the woods, and encounter some gypsies; the Don and Sancha have a violent encounter with the same gypsies in the same woods – resulting in the Don having a dream sequence; Gamache successfulled steals the Don’s money.

The gypsy dance sequences shows – for me – how far the Company has come in the 6 years that I have been attending their performances. The dancing is energetic and passionate – without loosing musicality or technique. The number of male dancers has increased, so that of the large number of gypsies, half were male – rather than a token sprinkling.

The dream sequence showed all the hallmarks of a Petipa piece – ballerinas: in white tutus, in small groups and long diagonal lines, in formations blocking a man’s path. And was executed superbly. Meddhi Angot as Cubid was wonderful – powerful jumps and leaps: best russian (scissor leap) I have ever seen!

In Act III, the Don and Sancha catch up with Gamache and recover the money and through an act of great generosity Basilio and Kitri are married. The drunken Gamache – trying to drink his way through the Don’s money – sequnce could double as a homage to John Cleese. Basilio and Kitri’s pas de deux was well executed with some chemistry. Another obvious Petipa touch was Kitri’s fouettes of joy – I counted 31!

There were some first night nerves, the most memerable was Kitri dropping her fan just before commensing her fan dance at the wedding! the most unsettling was the slightly late start.

There are some hummerous moments and some very busy moments. Gamache is introduced walking his little dog – a Weta Workshops creation. It was a real hit with the audience and hopefuully will get roles in the Company’s future productions – like The Wedding. Many of the village sequences were very ‘busy’ – in some way they were more like movie sequences – and at times distracted from the dancing.

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Romeo and Juliet – 2008

August 27, 2008 at 7:18 am | Posted in Ballet Review, Show Review | Leave a comment
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I was originally not going to see this ballet, a trial viewing of a DVD recording of a more classic version, resulted in a decision not to go. But I at the end of the show I was glad I went.

Aug 24, 2008 by Show_Hanger

This ballet was originally choreographed by Christopher Hampson in 2003 for the Royal New Zealand Ballet’s 50th Anniversary. The setting and costumes are not the classic 17th century setting; instead the setting is more contemporary – post 19th century. Hampson has recast the story somewhat and given it some deeper nuances. The work is one that one might have expected from Matthew Bourne – with the greatest repect to both choreographers; it is a throroughly modern ballet.

The Capulets and Montagues have been cast onto two sides of a class divide. The Capulets are shown in wealthy circumstances – all be it with some serious street muscle on-call. The Montagues are hardly shown at all; they may have money, but Romeo (Qi Huan) seems to have the run of the streets – maybe he just feels more comfortable away from the more confining surrounds of his unseen family. The clash between the Caplulets and the Montagues is subtly subverted into a clash between the free spirits of the streets and the constricted family setting of honour and duty.

Tybalt is portrayed brilliantly, by Paul Mathews, as an angry young man consumed by the need to protect his family honor. As such he is very much the force driving the conflict, and is the catalyst of much of the violence. He was the one who supplied the forboding menace on the streets and at the Capulet family ball. So it comes a bit of a surprise to see him killed by Romeo.

Romeo and his two companions (Mercutio and Benvolio) come across as a set of self absorbed young men looking for diversion and some fun mischief – fairly harmless and annoying. Baiting Tybalt and his street heavies; siding with the people who can’t really stand up to them, seems like a bit of heroic fun, that eventually leads to Mercutio’s accidental slaying.

Romeo is not really interested in revenge, but Tybalt drives him into a frenzy and he is killed.

Juliet (Katie Hurst-Saxon) has the hardest role: she is still young, but expected to take on some of the duties of an adult – her family expect her to marry Paris, perhaps to cement a wider family alliance; she is loyal to her family; she marries against her family’s wishes – in secret; Romeo kills Tybalt – her older cousin, and a favourite; she loves Romeo, on and on and on. Juliet and her two friends are the innocents in this story. They have a nurse (Turid Revfeim) who’s job is to look after and protect them. Nurse is probably the one human figure in the household. Juliet’s parents seem to be duty bound figures.

Juliet is ultimately torn by duty and love, and seeks a third way out – she will fake her suicide. And so the young lovers kill themselves due to that fateful mis-delivered message. (Surely, a phone company or courir company will us this as the basis for an advertisement – ‘use X when that message has to get there on time’!)

Hampson injects a new sub-plot: Lady Capulet and Tybalt are secretly lovers! Here we see a facet of the adult world that Juliet tragically never discovers. Juliet’s own mother shows that duty can be worn like a suit of clothes – put on in public and taken off in private. Juliet should have married Paris and met very discretely with Romeo!

Hampson cleverly puts Juliet and her friends on point, and no one else, to emphasize their innocent nature.

Sir Jon Trimmer (Friar Lawrence) and Turid Revfeim turn in wonderful performances to give their characters some depth. Gary Harris and Greg Horsman even put charming cameo roles – as monks. Jo Funaki got the biggest round of applause – for his portrayal of the mischevious Mercutio – during the curtain call.

Tracy Grant Lord’s set was clever and created the right atmosphere – well up to meeting the challenge of creating: street scenes, a grand ball, Juliet’s bedroom, a church, and a tomb. A stair case does wonderful quadruple duty. Verona must be truly a magical place because it was just massive.

Christopher Hampson’s Romeo and Juliet is accessible, without being shallow.

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My only disappointment was that I did not get to see Amy Hollingsworth and Cameron McMillan dance in the lead roles. So much of the production publicity had been crafted around them. Given my DVD fueled misgivings of Romeo and Juliet, I went because I wanted to see them dance.

I went on the last night of the season, so if you missed it, catch it in 3-4 years when it comes around again.

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