Tag Archives: ballet

Ballet Review: Mayerling (Royal Opera House, London)

The real-life Crown Prince Rudolf of Austria-Hungary.

The real-life Crown Prince Rudolf of Austria-Hungary.

Rating: ****

Based on a true story, Sir Kenneth Macmillan’s ballet after Gillian Freeman’s scenario is given yet another revival at the Royal Opera House. It’s name is taken after the hunting lodge where the Crown Prince Rudolf of Austria-Hungary and his mistress Baroness Mary Vetsera were found dead in an apparent suicide pact. Little else is known about the circumstances leading up to the incident apart from allegations that the Emperor and the Crown Prince had an argument over the affair with the young Baroness.

Despite its bleak and bare prelude the first thing that strikes you is just how extravagant this production is, especially the sumptuous period costumes by Nicholas Georgiadis. You’re also initially treated to a wonderfully elegant choreography matching the high-romanticism of Franz Liszt’s music, selected, arranged and orchestrated by John Lanchbery. But as soon as you get comfortable with this familiar image of classical ballet the gilded veneer slowly peels away to reveal something unexpectedly bold, daring, and modern.

Macmillan manages to seamlessly blend archetypal ballet with more free and expressive movement that is both powerful and visually striking. For every part that is refined and traditional there is an equal part that’s ragged and dangerous. This is ballet unlike anything else, turning an art-form that is stereotypical dowdy into something fascinating.

Every step, turn, and lift of the choreography forms part of an incredibly strong narrative whilst simultaneously creating atmosphere and tension out of nothing. There isn’t a moment that is dull or difficult to watch. Indeed, Macmillan’s ability to tell a story through dance is so much so that Liszt’s music and Georgiadis’ set become almost superfluous, only serving to augment sense and scene. Everything else is in the dance; the sex is steamy, the violence shocking, and the despair devastating.

The jewel in Macmillan’s choreography is the surprises he leaves peppered throughout. Rudolf is arguably the most demanding and difficult male principal roles in ballet, and its not difficult to see why. Every so often there will be some incredible feats of strength and physicality that come straight out of the blue leaving you in breathtaking awe. But Macmillan never sets off all his fireworks at once meaning you never tire of these astonishing moments and neither can you predict them.

The only thing that stopped this evening from being perfect was Bennet Gartside’s unsure start, having stepped into the role after billed Johan Kobberg unfortunately left due to injury. His footing was a little unsure to start with, even though his ability to emote never faltered. As he became more comfortable with the role by the end of Act I he transformed into an impressive and superlative dancer who seemed to handle the role with tireless ease. The only other main issue was a very sloppy string section. There were more than a handful of moments where intonation and ensemble were completely absent. It’s an unexpectedly disappointing turn from what should be a world class orchestra.

But with star turns from the rest of the cast, especially Mara Galeazzi as doting yet disturbed Baroness Mary Vatsera and James Hay’s dizzying performance as Bratfisch, this is a lavish and wildly surprising production; ballet at its most beautiful and brutal.

Mayerling plays on selected dates at the Royal Opera House, London, WC2E 9DD, until 15 June 2013. Tickets are £5-£93. To book visit www.roh.org.uk.

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Dance Review: The Rite of Spring/Petrushka (Sadler’s Wells, London)

Fabulous Beast's"The Rite of Spring" from the 2009 production. Photograph: Courtesy of the company.

Fabulous Beast’s “The Rite of Spring” (taken from the 2009 production). Photograph: Courtesy of the company.

Rating: **

Fabulous Beast re-imagine their 2009 Olivier-nominated interpretation of Stravinsky’s The Rite of Spring for the ballet’s centenary, and also add a new interpretation of the composer’s Petrushka to create two narratively connected pieces in this double bill. But despite the acclaim of 4 years ago fuelling their hype, this premier at Sadler’s Wells is lacking.

With The Rite of Spring the problem was with the musical aspect. Gone are the English National Opera’s tremendous orchestra from the acclaimed 2009 version. Here we welcome just two very talented pianists. But it almost made sense. Stravinsky’s behemoth scoring is irrepressible and the removal of the mountain of sound that a full orchestra creates really gives the dance undivided attention from the audience. It starts off interesting being able to hear every stamp, turn, and breath of the dancers as its resonates through the auditorium. But you quickly start to notice the absence of the thumping string rhythms, the booming trumpets, and the catastrophic percussion that hallmark the work. The tinkle-tinkle of a piano just doesn’t cut it. You’re suddenly left realising and appreciating the genius behind Stravinsky’s scoring and just how integral it is to the ballet – further reflected in the perfectionism of the several revisions he made to the piece during his lifetime.

The modern narrative doesn’t really diverge far from the essence of the original ballet – a sullen matriarch watches over a ritual of rebirth, complete with sex and violence. But without the energy and timbre of an orchestra the dance is bewildering at best. Michael Keegan-Dolan’s choreography is certainly sinister, but it lacks the savagery the piece lusts for. For a production that sends out warnings to school groups about the content it’s decidedly un-shocking, sometimes tumbling into the ridiculous. Apart from a bit of nudey-nudey dancers, dry-humping the stage after dropping your trousers down to your pants is hardly pornographic, and the sexual violence is abstract enough to lose any impact. Furthermore the dog masks look more like we’ve been plunged into a Furries convention rather than an unnerving metamorphosis of wild animal instinct. For a piece that infamously started a riot during its first performance, this version scarcely raises an itch.

Petrushka was an improvement by comparison. Stravinksy’s lighter, more lyrical, and melodic score of this earlier ballet suits a version for four hands much better opposed to the raw rabble of The Rite of Spring. Keegan-Dolan’s brighter approach also boasts tighter and more energetic ensemble pieces. Again, whilst diverging from the original narrative of the ballet, the core elements are still there – romance, rivalry, and ascension. However, these themes are loosely dragged out over the entire 30 minutes of the ballet score and despite a handful of visually arresting moments and managing to capture a fun sense of whimsy, it ultimately doesn’t feel satisfying. Also, its tagging-on as some sort of pseudo-sequel to the previous piece is irritatingly contrived. The matriarch reappears only to shout “non” several times and toss about a few pockets of fake snow. Her presence goes from intimidating to irrelevant.

I’m admittedly more knowledgeable about music than I am dance, so I’m unfortunately unable to offer much comment on the actual choreography itself. However, whilst it certainly looks slick, it just seems too safe with little breath-taking moves or surprising stunts, overall lacking a sense of daring. But it seemed pretty much there and the dance aficionados in the audience certainly seemed to appreciate it.

If you’re into modern dance then I’m sure the choreography itself is quite something whether you burgeon a deep appreciation for the music, like myself, or not. But if you’re not, without a proper musical performance the entire affair is empty. Fabulous Beast seems to ignore the fact that what makes Stravinksy’s ballets is Stravinsky’s music and orchestration, not just the dance, thus rendering The Rite of Spring/Petrushka into something pretentious, dull, and disappointing.

The Rite of Spring/Petrushka plays at Sadler’s Wells, London, EC1R 4TN, until 13th April. Tickets are £12-£38. To book visit www.sadlerswells.com.