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"Not Strictly Rubens" by the Royal Ballet of Flanders, Belgi


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#1 Marc Haegeman

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Posted 03 March 2003 - 10:08 AM

Topless ballerinas with gigantic erect phalli, prancing about in awkward grace before the whole group joins in a nerve-wrecking mega dance-party. A duet of a giant black body-builder in flower shorts with a smallish ballerina, executed with the passion of a pair of sleepwalkers. It may not exactly be your idea of a Sunday matinee ballet performance (it isn’t mine, either) but that’s basically what we are offered in “Not Strictly Rubens”, the newest creation of the Royal Ballet of Flanders, premiered last week in Antwerpen.

Guilty of this noteworthy feat is Belgian choreographer Marc Bogaerts who, the usual out-to-lunch intellectualisation at hand, devised an endless cocktail of ugliness and vulgarity, supposed to evoke the divine ecstasy of the famous baroque painter Rubens. However, Bogaerts’ plot is indecipherable, worse, his insignificant choreographic manner isn’t able to keep the attention for more than ten minutes as it gets instantly drowned by the noise produced by Praga Khan’s techno and dance score. Lighting has the subtlety of a cheap slasher movie and costumes by trendsetting couturier Walter Van Beirendock are a total embarrassment.

One wonders why a respectable company like the Royal Ballet of Flanders bothers with this kind of work that definitely belongs in other venues. The classically trained dancers looked all too obviously ill-at-ease within these surroundings. To bring “Not Strictly Rubens” at this moment is even more cynical now that the government decreed that the major task of this company, as the sole classical ballet troupe in the region, is to bring the “brilliance of classical dance”.

I understand the RB of Flanders will be touring this work (to London among others). Better be warned.

Anyone with similar experiences?

#2 Alexandra

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Posted 03 March 2003 - 10:50 AM

Lucky London! I hope we will get reports. You've made it sound so enticing.....

Marc, this is a company I've never seen. Is the repertory all contemporary dance now? (I know they did a "Swan Lake" that was in the New! Improved! mode.)

#3 Marc Haegeman

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Posted 03 March 2003 - 10:59 AM

Alexandra, no it isn't and that's just the tragedy.

The Royal Ballet of Flanders is one of the smaller groups on the European dance scene that has made a commendable effort to become a respectable classical ballet company in the last decades. It has now a fair amount of the great classics in its repertory (that these aren't always the best versions is another thing), and they are pretty good in neo-classical (as we could see in the opening work of that fearful evening, a fine rendition of d'Amboise's "Symposium/Mondriaan"). Absolutely nothing wrong with that.

Somehow, in spite of the obvious success and appeal, there is a growing tendency within the company’s management and the local cultural establishment that supports it, which takes great pains (for whatever reasons) to drag the Royal Ballet of Flanders down into the regions of self-parody and balletic travesty. Last year we had that abysmal "Swan Lake", and now there is "Not Strictly Rubens" which exceeds all expectations.

#4 Alexandra

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Posted 03 March 2003 - 01:17 PM

This is becoming a trend in Europe. It's certainly happened a lot in France, and perhaps that is the model?

Is this an attempt to jump on the bandwagon, as we would say? Or to bring in a new audience? (Do the classical/neoclassical evenings sell out?) What's your sense of the audience?

I thnk we have other posters from Belgium, too, or perhaps those who have seen the company and I'd welcome their comments as well.

#5 Viviane

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Posted 03 March 2003 - 01:48 PM

Alexandra, the only 'enticing' thing in it, is that I can't resist in posting a reply :(

The whole media-campaign around this 'balletproject' made me decide in advance : 'this is a ballet I don't want to see'.
A combination of Van Beirendonck and Pragha Khan seemed hot enough to attrack all kind of people. We were flooded with articles on those two in lots of magazines and the dancing disappeared to the background as a rather marginal element, used and abused to serve their creativity.
But my curiosity has won and I've seen the performance last Friday....and I only can agree with Marc on all what he wrote about it :(
I still don't get it what Rubens had to do with it : I found myself as a hostage of an SM-freak, trapped in a mad world with no possibility to escape : bad music, bad lighting, in-existing choreography, and the costumes (?) :a long story with very little contence !
I only want to forget as fast as possible about it : another waist of money, a lost opportunity.

The REAL highlight of the evening "Symposium", had nothing to do with the name of this double bill : a choreography inspired by the wonderful world of painter Mondriaan on music from Leonard Bernstein. Here we saw the Royal Ballet of Flanders on it's best ! It was a feast to see the well-trained dancers in a piece they really could call their own. This creation from d'Amboise was in the same line as the "Three for the road" triple bill I saw some months ago.
Artistically the company seems 'on drift' and being the only classical company overhere, this is alarming ! :(

Judging from the "grey-curly hair ladies", I saw at the performance, a new audience hasn't been discovered yet ! I can't remember I ever left a ballet where I refused to applaud, no matter how sorry I felt for the dancers !

#6 Marc Haegeman

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Posted 03 March 2003 - 02:35 PM

Alexandra, I don't have figures to back this up, but as far as I know the Royal Ballet of Flanders seems to be doing well with its traditional classical/neo-classical ballets. It doesn't necessarily mean that much, as we are a small country and there are very little performances over the year, yet all the performances I attended over the last years had a reasonable amount of attention and there definitely is a public that enjoys traditional ballets.

Yet, I suspect that this doesn't seem to be enough to some of those in charge. As Viviane points out there have been several efforts to bring in fancy names, so called cultural popes, enfant-terribles, whatever, eccentric brains, who may score highly within certain circles, but for all that are often completely out of touch with the idiom of classical ballet. We get parades of highly personal quirks that are being sold as original and novel art (Fabre's "Swan Lake" is now advertised as "pioneering"), but as Viviane said, dance in all that becomes completely marginal and secondary.

BTW, Bogaerts the creator of "Not Strictly Rubens" is said to have been active in among others Joffrey Ballet, Washington Ballet, Milwaukee Ballet and Danish Royal Ballet. Is anybody familiar with his work in those companies?

#7 Viviane

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Posted 03 March 2003 - 02:56 PM

Marc, they are bringing this to Sadler's Wells in May !

eh...I still haven't figured out what those strange, wheeled symbols steered by aliens (?) were during the "Golden Rubens" !? Any idea ? :(

#8 Leigh Witchel

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Posted 03 March 2003 - 03:32 PM

I worked with Bogaerts briefly many years ago when dancing in a small company in Florida.

Let's put it this way. He removed me from the cast of his work, but it was mutual. He wasn't doing ballet, and that was what I wanted to do.

#9 Marc Haegeman

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Posted 04 March 2003 - 12:54 AM

Thanks, Leigh.

That's right, Viviane. They also bring their version of "Romeo and Juliet" to Sadler's Wells, May 6-10. Not exactly a masterpiece either, but still worth seeing (interesting to note also that in London they bring it with an orchestra, while we almost always get taped music out here :()

Viviane, I have plenty of ideas of what these things may be, but I rather not say it on this board :D

Here's the link:
http://www.sadlerswe...03/flanders.asp

#10 Viviane

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Posted 04 March 2003 - 01:43 AM

Leigh, I even don't need an explanation to understand !
A lot of my balletfriends simply skip Bogaerts work.

Thank you for the link, Marc.
I didn't realize they had a real light designer for 'Not strictly Rubens' ! I hardly can remember more than the harsh strobophobic lights :D
I missed out on R&J last year ! A bit odd to go and see it in London isn't it ?

Maybe I should not be that harsh towards the costume-design.
There are good ideas in it (apart from the SM-influence !) : f.i.the pieces in the Blue Rubens = purety. But it had not the overwhelming effect that I expected on stage !

#11 Mashinka

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Posted 04 March 2003 - 02:21 AM

Perhaps if the reviews and audience reaction to this work are totally unsympathetic, it might be dropped before it gets to London.

Didn't Valery Panov have some connection with this company back in the 1980's?

#12 Viviane

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Posted 04 March 2003 - 02:36 AM

Yes Mashinka, Valery Panov became AD in 1984 or 1985, I can't remember exactly and his wife Galina Panova became a principal dancer with the company. He was succesfull in attracking former dancers of the troupe : Koen Onzia, Ben & Tom Van Cauwenbergh returned and it was the start of a short but marvelous period !
Discussions with the board of directors made an abrupt end to the collaboration with Panov : a disaster in my eyes. I even remember that some dancers went on strike against this decision and occupied the operahouse so that several performances had to be cancelled.

#13 Lynette H

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Posted 04 March 2003 - 05:26 AM

I saw the Jan Fabre production of Swan Lake at the Edinburgh Festival last year. Unquestionably my worst ever experience in a theatre. It was played straight through without intervals in a effort to stop people walking out. A psychotic dwarf, a live owl tethered to the top of Rothbart's head, a man in a suit if armour with a TV aerial on his head and the most prententious programme notes ever. AAAAAAAAAGH. I did feel rather sorry for the dancers.

I haven't booked for the Sadlers Wells run. I was wondering whether to weaken for the triple bill, but I think I may spend my money elsewhere...

#14 Marc Haegeman

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Posted 04 March 2003 - 09:15 AM

Originally posted by Lynette H
I saw the Jan Fabre production of Swan Lake at the Edinburgh Festival last year.  Unquestionably my worst ever experience in a theatre.


You haven't seen this one yet, Lynette. And, undoubtedly to magnify the impact of the experience, it's offered non-stop as well :D.

I wonder how the their "Romeo and Juliet" will be received in London. It is a rather truncated affair, with the music cut and pasted on several occasions, but at least it gives the dancers some chance to prove themselves.

#15 Viviane

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Posted 04 March 2003 - 09:16 AM

Lynette, that's exactly how I feeled after the Swan Lake performance "sorry for the dancers" !
And this performance is even worser ! :D

It's a real pity they bring these performances internationaly. One gets a one-sided view on the company and the dancers hardly have the chance to show what they are worth !

Marc, I don't know which cast you saw, but in the Fourth Mouvement of Symposium, Olga Voloboueva was outstanding !


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