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Royal Ballet 2018-19 season

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Posted (edited)

I attended the cinema broadcast of the Royal Ballet's triple bill consisting of Christopher Wheeldon's Within the Golden Hour, Sidi Larbi Cherkaoui's Medusa and Crystal Pite's Flight Pattern. (My local movie house experienced a 71% decline from a whopping 7 ballet fans for the Royal Ballet broadcast of Don Quixote earlier in the year to 2 today.)

Christopher Wheeldon's Within the Golden Hour was made for the San Francisco Ballet and exists comfortably within the neoclassical idiom. There are 7 couples -- 3 principal and 4 corps. Curiously, I found that the full ensemble portions and the corps portions (in various configurations) were more engaging than the three central duets featuring some of the starrier principals. Surely this couldn't be Wheeldon's intent as the three duets are clearly designed to be the major statements in the work. And yet, I found my interest flagging a bit during these sections relative to the high octane corps and full group work surrounding them -- a curious effect.

Jasper Conran created new costumes for the piece and they don't work for most of the men. They look like male swim suits from the 20s but sparkly. The cut of the costume only really works for tall, thin dancers like Vadim Muntagirov. Shorter, stockier dancers like Alexander Campbell just look squat in them.

Enjoyment of Medusa probably depends on how much you can stomach of old-school American modern dance, particularly the Greek period of Martha Graham. Medusa is like a full-blown tribute to Graham from its costumes for the women (Graham "Greece" rather than ancient Greece "Greece" or Isadora "Greece") to its prodigious use of fabric to Athena's hair, which boldly co-opts Graham's own hair style from her later years. The movement is a typical Sidi Larbi Cherkaoui mish-mash of different styles rather than full-on Graham Technique.

Medusa works well enough as a retelling of the story from Greek mythology and its has some ingenious effects; most notably Perseus' (Matthew Ball) decapitation of Medusa (Natalia Osipova). It's a clever bit of theater that even Graham might admire. Unfortunately, Cherkaoui doesn't leave well enough alone by ending Medusa with the decapitation. Instead, we get a tacked on and extraneous star solo from Osipova. Well, as Joan Crawford would say, a star vehicle should always end on its star and Medusa is nothing if not a star vehicle.

The title character's ability to turn men into stone if they look directly at her comes and goes during the course of the piece. Sometimes Ball is looking directly at her (to no effect) and then sometimes he's doing all he can to look away from her. At one point, he's waving around a piece of fabric as if it's a religious icon from the Denishawn era with the power to protect him from Medusa's legendary stare.

The costumes for the men are hideous. If you can picture the Six Million Dollar Man from the 70s running on his bionic legs in a see-through track suit instead of his iconic red suit, he would look like this.

Given what I had read in advance about Crystal Pite's Flight Pattern, I was expecting something bold and innovative. And if I had never seen Jose Limon's Missa Brevis, I would think that the dancers standing in profile and staring up into the light would be just that. And if I didn't know anything about some of Anna Sokolow's "heavier" works, I would think that the dancers confronting one calamity after another represented a bold advance in dance theater. As it was, I thought a lot of it was derivative of mid-century modern dance, however unintentionally.

As for Pite's theme ('refugees are a bad thing'), the "piling up" of one calamity after another actually works against it. If Pite's thought was that 1+1+1+1 would equal 5 (that is, the cumulative effect of each incident would create an impact greater that that of each individual incident), she had the opposite effect with me: I found my attention dividing in half with each new development.

That being said, there are two strong moments in Flight Pattern. First, there is a sequence where the dancers begin piling their coats one-by-one in the arms of a female dancer as she walks to the back of the stage. The coats resemble dead bodies, which is a powerful theatrical effect. The second sequence occurs at the end when the entire ensemble of 36 begins moving like human waves. It's not a new or novel effect but the Royal Ballet dancers bring their collective might to it.

Finally, I missed Kristin McNally as co-host of the broadcast as Darcey Bussell grates beyond all measure.

 

Edited by miliosr

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Your views on this triple pretty much match my own, strong dislike of the new shiny costumes for Golden Hour and the memory that SFB used to do it better.  Flight pattern is a revival, I missed it first time around as had to leave the theatre with raging toothache.  I didn't read the reviews.  Rather thought it might have something to do with aircraft, titles can be so misleading, but it's Pite's usual block movement fare, the couple next to me clearly had been before and exited after Medusa as did a few others,  Pite doesn't quite empty a theatre on the Hofesh Shechter scale, but it seemed for a number of people catching an earlier train is the more attractive option.

I absolutely loved Medusa.  As Graham has always been strictly rationed in the UK. I didn't make the connection at the time but on reflection I see what you mean.  Music is very important to me when watching ballet and the Purcell music sung by Tim Mead was worth the price of admission on its own, even though the 'cold song' from The Fairy Queen sung by a counter tenor rather than a bass sounded a little strange.  It was the sense of atmosphere that struck me about this work, the creation of a mythical place between time and reality.  Cherkaoui has created for Osipova before and she performs his choreography with great conviction.  Yes the beheading was very clever indeed and yes the costumes for Perseus and his men were awful, but the girls looked very good in their drapery and Athena and Poseidon conveyed an aura of other worldliness, godlike indeed,  This is one I'd very much like to see revived.

 

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Posted (edited)

FYI:

On the ROH.org website I noticed the following post...

Quote


Michael Legge responded on 19 May 2019 at 8:05pm Reply

How do I buy a DVD copy, a download or any other video recording of the amazing and sublime "Within the Golden Hour"?
I need to watch it again... and again...
Michael

    Olivia Moxey responded on 20 May 2019 at 10:54am

    Dear Michael,

    We're delighted to inform you that this performance will be released on DVD at the start of 2020.

    Best Regards,
    ROH Cinema

https://www.roh.org.uk/news/your-reaction-what-did-you-think-of-the-royal-ballets-within-the-golden-hour-medusa-flight-pattern-live-in-cinemas

Edited by pherank

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23 hours ago, Mashinka said:

It was the sense of atmosphere that struck me about this work, the creation of a mythical place between time and reality.  Cherkaoui has created for Osipova before and she performs his choreography with great conviction.  Yes the beheading was very clever indeed and yes the costumes for Perseus and his men were awful, but the girls looked very good in their drapery and Athena and Poseidon conveyed an aura of other worldliness, godlike indeed,  This is one I'd very much like to see revived.

I would agree with you about the "sense of atmosphere". The costumes (but for the men's), lighting, music, props and sets all worked together to create an otherworldly effect. I do wish Sidi Larbi Cherkaoui had left things with Perseus giving Medusa's head to Athena and then Athena's priestesses rejecting Poseidon one-by-one. It was the perfect ending. 

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Posted (edited)
4 hours ago, miliosr said:

I would agree with you about the "sense of atmosphere". The costumes (but for the men's), lighting, music, props and sets all worked together to create an otherworldly effect. I do wish Sidi Larbi Cherkaoui had left things with Perseus giving Medusa's head to Athena and then Athena's priestesses rejecting Poseidon one-by-one. It was the perfect ending. 

I smiled a little when I read your original post and then the above post....Mileages really do vary--I liked the solo for Medusa at the end; actually, it was my favorite part of the work because it seemed to concentrate and express her emotional journey in a way the ballet's ultra-stylizations did not allow for elsewhere. It also gave me a sense of release that the priestesses rejecting Poseidon did not quite do, since I had understood that Medusa had not had the option to reject him (that she had been raped)....

That said, I was a little less keen on the ballet overall than Mashinka or you, but I will try to watch it again....

Edited by Drew

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Posted (edited)
20 hours ago, Drew said:

I smiled a little when I read your original post and then the above post....Mileages really do vary--I liked the solo for Medusa at the end; actually, it was my favorite part of the work because it seemed to concentrate and express her emotional journey in a way the ballet's ultra-stylizations did not allow for elsewhere. It also gave me a sense of release that the priestesses rejecting Poseidon did not quite do, since I had understood that Medusa had not had the option to reject him (that she had been raped)....

That said, I was a little less keen on the ballet overall than Mashinka or you, but I will try to watch it again....

There's no need to second guess your impressions of the piece. As Arlene Croce once said in an interview: "Personal taste always operates." (The debate now raging on this forum and elsewhere regarding Cathy Marston's Jane Eyre proves that point.)

In any event, I would return to my very first comment about Medusa; namely, that enjoyment of it may depend on how much you enjoy Martha Graham's "Greek" phase. Medusa exists so solidly within the Graham "Greek" tradition that her successor company should be the next company to stage it.

As for Medusa's final dance, it would work for me if we saw her triumphant over Athena and Poseidon for their wrongdoing (Poseidon for raping Medusa and Athena for blaming Medusa for the crime.)

Edited by miliosr

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Posted (edited)

It's almost time for the company's leavers, joiners and promotions to be announced. Speculation is rife on other Forums as to who should be promoted.

We already know that Sambe has been promoted to Principal from next season as the company seems to have been forced into making an announcement to that effect after he gave an interview to the Times newspaper. It is all very strange as Sambe's interview was almost certainly arranged by some part of the ROH organisation. After successful debuts as Colas and Oberon last season when he was also supposed to make his debut as Albrecht but was prevented by injury from doing so, followed by equally successful debuts as Romeo with O'Sullivan as his Juliet, and as Basilio dancing opposite Naghdi's Kitri, the announcement will have come as no surprise to anyone. 

Although Kish's retirement creates a second vacancy at Principal level I think it unlikely that Kevin will appoint a second male Principal this year. The most likely promotions, it seems to me, are that Clarke and O'Sullivan will become First Soloists next season. Clarke has been collecting Principal roles in core RB repertory almost from the day he joined the company beginning with the Somes role in Symphonic Variations. While O'Sullivan has had similar opportunities to acquire repertory she has danced successfully in a wide range roles. When Sleeping Beauty was last revived two years ago her roles included Princess Florine, at least three Prologue Fairies, and one if not both of Florestan's Sisters, at various times during the run. The casting for the first booking period tends to support the idea that O'Sullivan will be promoted. Having recently made a successful debut as Juliet in her first full length ballet, O'Sullivan is due to make her debut as  both Aurora and Swanhilda as well as dancing Dorabella for the first time in the opening months of the season. I am not convinced that there will be a third First Soloist appointed.

I think that the really interesting promotions, by which I mean that there is more talent than there are rewards available, will come with promotions from First Artist to Soloist. Here  dancers like Donnelly, Dubreuil, Sissens and Yudes must be in the running for promotion as much for their potential as the performances they have given over the last season or two. But at this level it is entirely possible that management may feel the need to reward consistently top quality performances in supporting roles over several seasons  by more mature dancers. If that is the case, then dancers like Gasparini and Pajdak may be in the running. This season Pajdak has been in virtually everything. She has led the female corps down the ramp in La Bayadere made her debut as Nurse and danced an extremely wide range of supporting roles in Don Q and other ballets. I am not reading anything into the fact that she danced one of the excerpts performed at the Fonteyn Gala but it is interesting that, as a First Artist, she was selected to do so.

 

Edited by Ashton Fan

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So long as he fully recovers from those injury problems, Cesar Corrales  is the prime candidate for the next principal, perhaps Stix-Brunell also.   Joseph Sissens is a sure bet for future stardom, he should move up at least one rung, hopefully more.

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Posted (edited)

I have to say that I agree with you about Stix-Brunell indeed  I find her neglect more than a little odd. I assume that she is not dancing Aurora because she is going to appear as the Lilac Fairy with one or more casts in Sleeping Beauty and will be given Prologue Fairies and Florestan's Sister to dance as well. After her fine account of the Young Girl in Two Pigeons with only a single performance in both seasons that it has been revived I should have thought that she was all but guaranteed at least one performance as Swanhilda. She seems more suited to the role to me than Magri who is to appear in it. Perhaps Stix-Brunell is down as an understudy for Swanhilda and has been promised Odette/Odile later in the season. Her stop-start career has always been something of a mystery to me as she has seemed near perfect to me in pretty much everything that I have seen her dance.

Edited by Ashton Fan

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I am extremely dismayed that Stix-Brunell is not cast as Swanhilda: she seems perfect for the role.

O'Sullivan debuting Aurora and Swanhilda back-to-back makes her a lock for first soloist.  I wonder if Corrales would have been given principal if he had danced the entire season uninjured including Basilio, but the promotion should come in a year or two.  

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I think it is an issue about technic.

If you think of the dancers who have been promoted to Principal over the past three years (in 2016 Akane Takada, Ryoichi Hirano, Alexander Campbell and Francesca Hayward, in 2017 Yasmine Naghdi, in 2018 Matthew Ball), three of them (Hayward/Naghdi/Ball) were fully trained since early childhood at the RBS Lower and Upper School), one (Campbell) at the Upper School, two (Takada/Hirano) trained abroad and Prix de Lausanne participants).

Soloist Anna-Rose O'Sullivan also trained at the RBS Lower and Upper School. The RBS trained dancers do have an exquisite style of dancing (gorgeous epaulement, fast foot work, in pure RB style, a bendy back necessary to dance Ashton,...) which is not always the case with dancers who trained in a different style abroad (as beautiful as they may dance too but it's different). 

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Cesar Corrales has an injury problem going back to his time with ENB,  Although his comments on that are in the public domain I won't repeat them here for risk of being deleted,  He is now back dancing and I saw him as Romeo where he didn't appear to be dancing flat out.  I thought the same about Hallberg's Romeo, though he really showed what he can do in the balcony pas de deux at the Fonteyn gala,  Corrales, did not participate in that.  Perhaps a question mark still hangs over  Corrales's fitness, thus hindering his immediate promotion, but if he fully recovers principal status must be assured.

RB style can be acquired, just as any other style can be.  That style is indivisible from Frederick Ashton's choreography and Beatrix Stix-Brunell is one of the finest Astonians in the company which she proved without question when she danced the young girl in The Two Pigeons, she has what I would call an understated technique, very like Fonteyn's I fact.  It would be a tragedy if she is overlooked in favour of more extravert colleagues.

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I take your points Mashinka but look what happened to Yuhui Choe in the past;  and now there is also Fumi Kaneko (a gorgeous dancer) and Mayara Magri (a very different energy dancer) at first soloist level followed by Anna Rose O'Sullivan (highly likely to be promoted to first soloist) so there will be three other dancers besides Stix-Brunell competing to join the top rank. No doubt Mr O'Hare will be the best judge in the end. 

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