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Posts Tagged ‘Dance’

MUSIC

Bryn Terfel showcased his new album ‘Bad Boys’ at the RFH. Part of me would have liked more opera arias and less numbers from musicals, and more of Bryn with less orchestral pieces, but in the end I was won over by the accessibility and populism he aims at and achieves and his rapport and warmth by interacting with the audience rather than standing mute and stiffly like most recitalists.

At King’s Place, two short concerts on the same evening were devoted to six of Britten’s rarer song cycles by six great young singers and pianist Martin Martineau and it proved to be one of those unexpected treats. Sadly, fewer than 200 people turned up, but it’s their loss.

I came late to Steve Earle but this is the fourth time I’ve seen him in as many years. Coinciding with his album in homage to Townes van Sandt, it was mostly Townes songs linked by some stories and anecdotes. It was a highly personal account of their relationship and I found it captivating; without question the best concert of the four.

I decided to give US retro folk-rockers The Decemberists a second chance after a disappointing concert a couple of years back and I was glad I did. The first half was their excellent new ‘concept’ album (wow, man, remember them?) Hazards of Love in its entirety and it worked brilliantly on stage. The second was a lighter collection of earlier material which sat well alongside the more earnest and serious first half.

OPERA & DANCE

L’assedio di Calais was another fine night at the Guildhall School of Music & Drama, a rare Donizetti which creaks a bit, but has enough good music to make a revival worthwhile. This time it wasn’t the soloists that shone, but the fine chorus.

I’m only an occasional visitor to contemporary dance and was attracted to the Michael Clark Company’s programme by its music – Lou Reed, Iggy Pop and mostly Bowie – but I’m afraid until the last few pieces it left me rather cold. The sequence with Jean Genie and Aladdin sane, though, was terrific.

Birmingham Royal Ballet’s Cyrano de Bergerac was more dance drama than ballet, with a score by the prolific Carl Davies. It was rather ruined by a late start following evacuation of the theatre when the alarms went off; a cock-up on the diary front meant I had another commitment (too) soon after this, so I had to depart before the last act, leaving Amanda on her lonesome. I sort of enjoyed what I saw, but being incomplete it’s hardy satisfying.

I thought the ENO’s pairing of Bartok’s one-act opera Duke Bluebeard’s Castle with Stravinsky’s ballet The Rite of Spring was inspired and both got a complete makeover. I didn’t think Bluebeard quite matched the intensity of their classic former production with Gwynne Howells (who Jeff spotted in the audience) and Sally Burgess and I didn’t entirely understand the interpretation of Rite (nothing new there then), but it was musically thrilling and visually fascinating.

FILM

An Education proved to be a delight. It’s got a nostalgic 60’s feel and a simple but satisfying story of how a young girl’s life changes when she’s swept away by an older man. It’s an auspicious debut from young Carey Mulligan and Rosamund Pike’s portrayal of the friend’s girlfriend is a real treat.

I was disappointed by the quirky satirical comedy The Men Who Stare at Goats. It was a great idea and there were some terrific performances (including another comic cameo gem from Kevin Spacey), but somehow it just didn’t work – I think because they didn’t push the absurd & surreal far enough.

ART

Beatles to Bowie at the NPG is a terrific review of the evolution of pop photography of the 60’s from old hands turning to pop photography to a new breed of pop photographers (many of whom went on the become mainstream themselves). It’s my decade, so suffice to say I was in my element. At the same venue, the Photographic Portrait Prize has such a high standard that I’m glad I didn’t have to choose the winners; inspirational stuff.

I was disappointed by the Ed Ruscha retrospective at the Hayward; I’m afraid I don’t really ‘get’ his paintings of words and it all seemed much ado about nothing and certainly not worthy of a major gallery show.

Bunker is an extraordinary painstaking recreation of a WWII bunker by a Polish artist in the curve space at the Barbican; the attention to detail is such that you soon feel you are exploring as historical space rather than an art installation.

Anish Kapoor’s major exhibition at the RA really has caught the public imagination and it was great to see so many kids and young people there. The mirror sculpture room is great fun. In another, large capsules of what looks like red play dough get fired from a cannon at the wall. A giant block of the same material which is around 10 ft high, 6 ft wide and 40 ft deep moves slowly on rails through five galleries, fitting the doorways between them perfectly; you can’t take your eyes off it. It really is a sculpture fest at the RA with another exhibition called Wild Thing bringing together Jacob Epstein, Eric Gill and Henri Gaudier-Brzeska; I’d never heard of the latter, had seen a fair bit of Epstein, but it was Gill’s almost art deco work that was the real revelation for me.

A photographer I’d never heard of called Jane Brown had an exhibition of B&W portraits of the famous (mostly from the arts) at the King’s Place concert venue and it proved an excellent pre-concert and interval diversion. Taken mostly in the 60’s and 70’s, B&W suited both the period and the subjects.

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OPERA

At the Guildhall School of Music & Drama there was a pairing of Martinu and  Rossini one-act comic operas. I love these Guildhall opera evenings – always value and often a treat. I wasn’t mad keen on the music of the Martinu though I liked the production and performances (particularly Nicky Spence). The Rossini, an inspired setting in a lap dancing club, was a hoot, with Spanish soprano Elena Sancho-Pereg giving a sensational vocal performance. Who needs Covent Garden when you can have as much fun as this for a sixth of the price.

Roberto Devereaux at Opera Holland Park made for a nice summer evening. There’s something formulaic about Donizetti’s operas, his obsession with setting British history is intriguing, and the result – assorted queens, dukes and duchesses emoting histrionically in Italian – is somewhat incongruous. Having said that, this is the perfect opera for OHP’s backdrop and it looks both attractive & authentic, it was played and sung beautifully and a good time was had by all. OHP is a summer must and this rare outing of this opera was very welcome.

James MacMillan’s opera Parthenogenesis (fatherless conception) is based on a 2nd World War tale about a woman whose conception is triggered by a bomb blast. It’s an intriguing story but it makes for a slight 50-minute opera, which I’m not sure is worthy of the huge resources the ROH have heaped upon it. It has some lovely atmospheric music and passionate performances, but designing in restricted views for those at the side (well, certainly on the left) is unnecessary, inconsiderate and unforgivable.

I’d been so looking forward to Britten’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream at the Royal College of Music. As soon as I saw there was no designer credit in the programme, I groaned…..and so it was; an opera set in a forest without a tree, bush, branch or even leaf in sight. It’s not easy to enjoy Britten’s magical music in such an unmagical setting. It didn’t help that the Britten Theatre, with the most uncomfortable seats, was hot, stuffy and airless.

 CLASSICAL MUSIC

Another concert in Julius Drake’s English song series at the Wigmore Hall; this time with soprano, mezzo, clarinet and piano! The programme combined rarer pieces and curiosities with the usual suspects (which is probably why it was so empty) so it was different but complimented the earlier concerts in the series. I’ve really enjoyed these.

The programme for the City of London Choir’s concert of rarely performed English choral music was inspired – two works by Vaughan Williams & Holst bookending pieces by Britten, Parry & Foulds – with the symmetry of a secular first half with piano and harp accompaniment and a scared unaccompanied second half. Despite my love of British music, all bar VW’s Mass in G was new to me and it was an absolute treat.

I love work which breaks out of the theatre or concert hall, and this year Spitalfields Festival invited five extraordinary musicians and four composers from the Royal Academy of Music to create music in the old Huguenot houses of Spitalfields. We visited five houses in 100 minutes and were given solo Baroque Cello, Tuba, Flute, Clarinet and Violin (with electronic soundscape). In addition to four new pieces (all for violin) they included a whole range of composers from Bach to Turnage and I though the whole experience was enthralling, with a walk around the much gentrified Spitalfields a real bonus.

My only visit to this year’s City of London Festival was for a chamber programme by the Hebrides Ensemble at the wonderful Stationers’ Hall. The programme of this year’s festival is 60º North, linking music from Norway, Sweden, Iceland, Finland, St. Petersburg and the Scottish isles. Tonight’s programme had Sibelius, Shostakovich and Stravinsky plus three living Scots (or adopted Scots) Peter Maxwell Davies, James MacMillan and Judith Weir and a bonus from Iceland. It was inspired programming – challenging but thrilling – and the venue was terrific. I loved the way the organisers mingled with the punters over a (free) glass of wine in the interval. Bravo!

ART

The one-room exhibition of Picasso prints at the NG complements the main exhibition, but it was a mixed bag. Next door at the NPG there was a small but brilliant exhibition of photos of Bob Dylan’s famous 1966 tour. I never saw the tour, but it still felt nostalgic. Richard Long is an eccentric Bristolian who travels the world carrying out obsessive walks, creating art from nature. The trouble is, photos and word descriptions don’t do this justice and in this huge Tate Britain exhibition the one room of stone sculptures just isn’t enough to capture your imagination. Also at Tate Britain, BP Connections is a slim contemporary art exhibition but it does deliver one coup – a room of (seemingly) ethnic sculptures collected from around the world by the Chapman family. They turn out to be modern creations with hidden references to a hamburger chain, its character for kids and hamburgers themselves! The exhibition of actor Anthony Sher’s paintings at the NT is wonderful; he’s as good an artist as he is an actor. The portraits in this exhibition include his family, but it is largely made up of fellow actors. At the same venue, the 30th anniversary of Greenwich Printmakers is celebrated by a lovely exhibition which shows just how under-rated printmaking is. The exhibition is made up of a very eclectic selection, but its more hit than miss. I ventured into another unexplored part of fast up-and-coming arty E1 / E2 for an exhibition of 60’s photos by ‘Hoppy’ Hopkins, an extraordinary man who founded International Times and set up the UFO club. The pictures, which ranged from street kids to The Beatles via demos and drugs, were terrific. Futurism at Tate Modern proved much more extensive and exciting than I was expecting; an amazing range of work that is mind-blowing today, so imagine seeing this for the first time 100 years ago. At the same venue, a major retrospective of Danish artist Per Kirkeby (who I’d never heard of) started with a yawn, but rather grew on me. The sculptures were awful but the big canvases splashed with colour were lovely – very Hodkinesque!

FILM

Two of Britain’s greatest film directors have tried lighter fare with their latest outings. Whereas Mike Leigh’s Happy-Go-Lucky failed to impress me, Ken Loach’s Looking for Eric proved to be a real treat – utterly charming and ultimately hopeful. I have little interest in football, no interest in Man United and to me Eric Cantona is some idiosyncratic Frenchman who uttered quirky statements at press conferences, but even I was captivated by what is clearly a bizarre cult. Nick Moran’s Telstar was a good play with a sensational leading performance by Con O’Neil. The story of 60’s record producer Joe Meek, it makes a good film but somehow I think it could have been a great one if he’d handed it over to another director able to bring objectivity and a new perspective. Con O’Neill reprises his role (less sensationally on screen) and is accompanied by a superb collection of young actors and a surprisingly good retired army major from Kevin Spacey!

OTHER

The prospect of a concert version of Kurt Weil’s first Broadway musical, after his exile from Nazi Germany, was a tempting one. It’s a First World War tale called Johnny Johnson which, for the 30’s, made very brave statements about young men as cannon fodder. In reality it’s a musical play, not a musical, and by including all of the dialogue it outstayed its welcome at over 3 hours. A curiosity, but not particularly entertaining.

I’ve got mixed views about classical ballet – I can’t stand the dancer hierarchies, the overly mannered performances, the sickly unnatural bows & curtain calls and the audience! – but when it’s good it takes your breath away as Jewels, a triple bill of Balanchine ballets to music by Faure, Stravinsky and Tchaikovsky, did at Covent Garden. The costumes and sets were gorgeous, the three ballets were complimentary and much of the dancing – particularly from Carlos Acosta, Alexandra Ansanelli and Rupert Pennefather – really did take your breath away.

Taste of London in Regent’s Park has now become an annual must. It features 36 restaurants, each presenting 3-4 signature dishes for you to sample in small portions for between £3 and £6. It has grown to include cooking master classes, lectures, wine & other drinks, cooking shops etc. We found a nice place in the VIP enclosure and took it in turns to wander around and sample 10 dishes each. It has got very popular (it is now replicated around the world) and may become overstretched, but for now it’s still a fun afternoon.

Having heard about the completion of their renovations and added galleries etc., I couldn’t resist a trip to Northampton to see one of Charles Rennie Mackintosh’s last commissions – 78 Derngate. It’s a small terraced house which is fascinating because it shows how he was evolving towards Art Deco – more geometric (triangles and straight lines) and stronger colouring (black combined with yellow, purple and turquoise). They have taken over two adjoining houses so that they can add galleries and the customary shop and restaurant. I particularly like the fact that they’ve given over galleries to modern designers for selling exhibitions.

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OPERA & CLASSICAL MUSIC

Handel’s Giustino, one of his 42 operas!, was given a very rare performance by Trinity College of Music in Wren’s wonderful Royal Naval College Chapel in Greenwich. The staging was a bit hit-and-miss but the singing was terrific. The venue has great acoustics and a wonderful atmosphere, but the pews proved a challenge for a bum-numbing 3 hours 10 mins. Welsh National Opera’s Queen of Spades is another feather in their cap. I found it a bit imbalanced, with a first act that dragged and the next three speeding along, but you couldn’t fault the innovative staging and fine performances and Tchaikovsky’s music is gorgeous. Peter Grimes is, in my view, the greatest opera of the 20th century and this spring at the ENO, it got the production it deserved. The orchestra and chorus under Edward Gardner were electrifying and have never sounded better. In a terrific British cast, John Daszak was a fine Peter with particularly stunning support from Felicity Palmer’s Mrs Sedley, Matthew Best’s Swallow, Gerald Finley’s Balstrode and Amanda Roocroft’s Ellen. This is one of the best things the ENO have ever done and it’s great to see this recently troubled company on such a roll.

I paid my first visit to London’s newest concert venue – Kings Place – for an OAE (Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment) concert of Handel concerti, arias and a short cantata and it was a treat. I’d never heard soprano Julia Doyle before but I can’t wait to see her again; she has a lovely voice. The OAE chamber group played beautifully and the venue really is terrific – two small halls of c.200 and c.400 seats with two galleries, restaurant and café and a canal-side setting. At St John’s Smith Square, the Lufthansa Baroque Festival opened with Handel’s oratorio Athalia. The German chorus & orchestra were exceptional as were the soloists, particularly Sarah Fox; though soprano Simone Kermes rather overdid her acting histrionics. A few days later, Handel’s opera Arianna in Creta, in concert at the Barbican, disappointed largely because in all truth the music is second rate Handel and its far too long. I was taken to a home concert in Kensington to hear South Africa’s entry to the Cardiff Singer of the World competition, baritone Dawid Kimberg, give a run through of his repertoire. He sang far too loudly for a drawing room, so that there was no light and shade and no subtlety and his choice of programme was a bit idiosyncratic – eclectic, but not the best of any of the composers chosen. Delius’ Mass of Life isn’t really a mass at all, but an oratorio based on Neitshe’s Also Sprach Zarathustra. I love Delius but I’d never heard this and it proved to be a complex and demanding piece, particularly for baritone Alan Opie who rose to the occasion magnificently. The Bach Choir and the Philharmonia were also lucky to have Susan Bullock, Susan Bickley and Nigel Robson as well as Alan Opie and it was a great performance. It has to be stopped at one point because an alarm had gone off in some lady’s bag; she bizarrely tried to sit it out until she realised the show would not go on. I’ve never seen so many dirty looks and I was amazed she had the nerve to stay.

 CONTEMPORARY MUSIC

Nick Lowe defines growing old gracefully and on his current tour he’s happy, charming and on great form. The selection was skewed to the 90’s but executed with perfection. I’ve never really taken to support Ron Sexsmith, but on this occasion I began to get the point – maybe he’s matured, or maybe I haven’t given him a fair crack of the whip until now. Anthony Hegarty is a bit of a one-off – when you hear him sing his hypnotic songs with his extraordinary voice you find it hard to believe it’s coming out of this tall, stocky, transgender, British-Canadian. I’d seen two earlier shows – one a collaboration with an artist and one with the LSO, but this was my first ‘bog standard’ Anthony & The Johnsons concert. Apart from a long ramble about climate change which continued into the song Hope Mountain thereby spoiling it, he sat at the piano in a half-light hardly engaging with the audience – but the sound that emanated from his mouth with piano / acoustic guitar / string accompaniment was heavenly. Malian singer / guitarist Rokia Traore has been a favourite since an impulsive visit to see her in Cambridge on a free evening during a short work assignment a few years ago. I think she’s moving too much away from traditional instrumentation, but when she’s rolling she’s simply terrific. She has one of the best rhythm sections I’ve ever heard and the whole Barbican audience was on its feet dancing – it was just impossible to sit still.

ART

I love the V&A’s comprehensive reviews of periods / styles which have in the past included Art Deco, Arts & Crafts, Art Nouveau, Modernism and Gothic. Baroque is just as comprehensive and if it’s less enjoyable that’s more to do with this OTT style than the exhibition. It really made the point that the style permeated everything and travelled far. I enjoyed the National Gallery’s Picasso:Challenging the Past much more than I thought I would. It’s a clever curatorial idea – how he paid homage to artists before him – that captures your imagination. At the NPG there is a stunning ‘installation’ of c.300 paintings of St. Fabiola by Francis Alys, based on an original now lost, discovered in places like flea markets and crammed onto 8 walls in 2 rooms. All but c.5 of them face left and all but c.15 are the same colour and it takes your breath away was soon as you enter the first room. I love Diane Arbus’ quirky 60’s portraits of real people but the exhibition at the Timothy Taylor Galleries was disappointing because of the overlap with her big V&A exhibition a few years back.

CINEMA

The British comedy Is Anyone There? featuring Michael Caine disappointed me – it was charming but it all seemed so contrived with a stunning British cast somewhat wasted. For some reason, I could hardy stay awake in Star Trek but what I did see seemed rather good, so I left the cinema deeply frustrated. I can’t say I understood Synecdoche New York but I was captivated by the surreal weirdness of it all. It made Kauffman’s earlier films – Being John Malkovich and Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind – seem positively straightforward.

OTHER

I was lucky to be invites to the London International Wine Fair, the major trade event. It was a bit of a maze and as a LIWF virgin I’m not sure I got the best out of it, but it was an excellent experience all the same.

I’ve wanted to see La Clique in Edinburgh but it’s normally at 1am and I’m not convinced anything can keep me awake at that hour in a darkened room. It’s been so well received in London that I was surprised to find myself underwhelmed. I was expecting edgy but got mainly mainstream and rather tame. Maybe it’s running out of stream after a long run.

The month ended at Bale de Rua, a colourful high energy Brazilian street dance show and the last in the Barbican’s BITE season. It started a bit over-slick and conventional but soon took off; another show picked up from the Edinburgh fringe.

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MUSIC & OPERA

Only two operas and an oratorio in a musically lean two months! Dr Atomic at ENO would have been a much better opera if he’d cut it by 30 mins (especially in the more static first half). I liked the design and staging, the music is accessible and there are some very good performances (though Gerald Finley’s understudy didn’t really cut it and looked too young) but it’s a case of more is less. I saw the premiere of The King Goes Forth to France at Covent Garden in the 80’s, but enjoyed this revival at the wonderful Guildhall School so much more (or maybe I’ve grown into modern opera). This production seemed to lighten the fantasy and bring out the humour and the staging and performances were yet again exceptional for a conservatoire. Another conservatoire put on the hugely ambitious Britten War Requiem with considerable success. The venue was tiny so the singers and musicians outnumbered the audience but this gave this anti-war piece so much more power.

Maria Friedman’s Sondheim concert was the fourth I’ve seen by her in the last year. Her interpretations of Sondheim are as goods as any others and the selection was as inspired as the choice of cello and piano accompaniment.

CINEMA

I was put off Clint Eastwood’s Gran Torino because I thought it was a classic revenge movie; I’m glad I gave in as it’s a lot more than that – and it may well be the last chance to see him act.

The Boat That Rocked was overlong and would have benefited from an independent director’s scrutiny. However, it was nowhere near as bad as the reviews and is worth the ticket price for the soundtrack alone.

ART & EXHIBITIONS

Another dire month for ‘art’ though better for ‘other’ exhibitions. The only art exhibitions I enjoyed were Rodchenko / Popova at Tate Modern (way-ahead-of-its-time iconic design – the posters, pamphlets and other graphic designs were as captivating as the paintings), the Japanese painter /  illustrator Kyunoshi’s stunning range of work at the Royal Academy and the wonderful original artwork for London Travel Posters  at the London Transport Museum.

All of the contemporary stuff was disappointing – the middle eastern contemporaries at the Saatchi were patchy though there were a few crackers, the Annette Messager installations at the Hayward seemed to me to be the product of a disturbed mind and I found it impossible to like, and worst of all was Tate Britain’s dreadful After Modern; like walking through the cast-off’s in an art school after they’ve taken the good stuff out for an exhibition.

I’m afraid the oldies didn’t fare much better – Tate Britain’s Van Dyck exhibition was only for those who are prepared to view room after room of lifeless nobles in their finery in preposterous over-staged poses and Constable’s portraits at the NPG were even less interesting than his biscuit-tin landscapes.

Gerard Richter’s photo-paintings at the NPG didn’t do a lot for me either, I’m afraid, though the DeutscheBank Photo Prize finalists at the new Photographer’s Gallery as the best short-list in a while.

Of the two architecture exhibitions, I preferred Le Corbusier at The Barbican to Paladio at the RA, though there were too many drawings which may be fascinating to an architect but rather dull to a layman.

The Russian Linesman collection at the Hayward seemed to me to be another of those excuses-for-an-exhibition that the Hayward (and others) are rather too fond of.

I caught up with the British Museum’s Babylon just before it closed and even though it falls into the excuse-for-an-exhibition category, like the Queen if Sheba before it at the same museum, there were enough good exhibits to excuse it on this occasion. By the time I saw it the Shah Abbas exhibition had moved into the converted Reading Room and proved to be as good as The First Emperor and Hadrian before it with some terrific exhibits, but above all telling the story of a great leader very well.

The Natural History Museum’s Darwin exhibition was a huge disappointment – very static; you’d learn more and have more fun reading a book. The V&A’s contribution was an exhibition about Hats which I went to ‘passing through’ the museum but I’m afraid left me cold – it was crowded though, so its clearly up a lot of other people’s streets. I was there to see the new performance galleries and they proved to be a real treat – a superb collection of costumes, memorabilia, video clips really well curated in just four galleries (though rather hidden somewhere on the 3rd floor). We went to the new British Music Experience at the O2 in its first week. It’s a terrific interactive tribute to 50 years of popular music. You can learn to play instruments, watch and hear video and sound clips and view memorabilia and store what you like onto a web space you can then access at your leisure. I’m not sure I’ll access my attempts at drumming and keyboard playing much, but I did love the experience and could have stayed all day. Of course, you tend to concentrate on your favourite period – in my case 60’s and 70’s – and provided the visitor age range is as wide as it was the day we went that means the visitor numbers are managed well.

DANCE

Eonnagata is a collaboration between a favourite dancer (Sylvie Guillem), a favourite theatre director (Robert Lepage) and a favourite choreographer (Russell Maliphant). I’m not sure the idea of staging a story of a transvestite 17th century French nobleman works, but the craftsmanship is unquestionable and the visual imagery stunning; I was spellbound for all 90  minutes.

OTHER

Frank Skinner’s Credit Crunch Cabaret was a great idea – a variety show thrown together on the day for a tenner. It was a hit-and-miss affair but enough of a hit to make it a decent birthday treat. My other (surprise) birthday (and Christmas) treat was a visit to Simon Drake’s House of Magicwww.houseofmagic.co.uk – I think Lynne & Graham were as pleased that the surprise remained a surprise and that they’d found something in London I’d never heard of as they were that I enjoyed it so much – it’s a very original night out.

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A lot of dance this month, starting with Birmingham Royal Ballet’s Stravinsky triple bill. Petrushka was a bit of a museum piece and in The Firebird they allowed the spectacle to overtake the ballet (but the music’s always lovely), so it was the newer production, Le Baiser de la feu which we enjoyed most; the critics, of course, thought the opposite! I’d been looking forward to Mark Morris’ Romeo-and-Juliet-with-a-happy-ending for a long time. This is apparently the lost first version of Prokofiev’s wonderful score, recently uncovered and restored. It’s not Morris’ best work but there was much to enjoy and the critical panning was totally unjustified. Being a lover of Howard Goodall’s music, I had to go to Rambert to see the premiere of their new ballet set to his especially composed requiem Eternal Light. The music was gorgeous but I found the dance uninspiring and the design tacky. The final dance piece was Independent’s Ballet Wales’ Under Milk Wood, which proved to be a delightful and charming chamber piece which didn’t dispense with the verse but illustrated it.

 

An opera-rich month too, starting with a new Michael Berkley chamber opera called For You. It was well staged and sung but the music isn’t particularly accessible so it left me a bit cold. At the Guildhall School, a wonderful rare Gluck opera, Le Recontre Imprevue, proved to be a delight in a highly inventive and very funny production. Three outings to ENO this month, the first to Partenope, yet another lovely Handel (there seem to be so many of them and I wonder if I’ll ever get to see them all). Later in the month, a disappointing Boris Gudunov which was rather static – come on, sing, go off, someone else comes on and sings, goes off – so even though it was musically good it didn’t really inspire. The third was Vaughan Williams short opera The Riders to the Sea. I’d seen a concert version in Brighton in May and this was musically as good and was well staged – but I felt cheated. They added a short Sibelius piece and a musical link which I thought was pointless. Instead, they should have paired it with another British one-acter and given us a full evening rather than a slight 55 minute morsel.

 

The Vaughan Williams 50th anniversary also produced two concerts of symphonies and shorter pieces at the Royal Festival Hall, both of which were real treats. The Philharmonia and Richard Hickox have done the anniversary proud – unlike the opera companies and other orchestras who should bow their heads is shame. Les Arts Florissants’ concert version of a rare Rameau opera at the Barbican was well performed but I wondered if the work was worth it. The musical month ended with the Bach Choir at the RFH in a combination of Howells and Vaughan Williams with an eccentric Maxwell Davies world premiere thrown in.

 

After the Philharmonia concerts but before the Bach Choir and Riders, the news of Richard Hickox death at the untimely age of 60 came as a real shock. Richard was the undisputed champion of British music and being a lover of Britten, Vaughan Williams and Elgar I was at his concerts regularly; four times in his last 6 months. His semi-stage Pilgrim’s Progress may well prove to be a career high, though there were so many. I became a friend of his Endellion Festival this year so that I could add a visit to my musical life. His death is a sad sad loss.

 

I also went to my first live Opera in HD at the cinema and loved it. It was Robert Lepage’s stunning production of Berlioz’ The Damnation of Faust live from the Met in New York. The sound and pictures were great and I liked the backstage stuff before and during the interval. I could have done without the preposterous audience members who dressed up, quaffed champagne and applauded as if it was the real thing. The only other cinema outing was to see the new Bond movie; after an exhausting month and in a hot cinema I’m afraid I dozed for the first part so if anyone would like to update me on the story….it was nice to see Bolivia as a film location anyway!

 

Art-wise, Byzantium at the Royal Academy was well worth the visit but I think I’d have preferred it to be chronological. The small exhibition of Miro, Braque, Calder & Giacometti was much better than I was expecting (given that I don’t really like any of them that much!).

 

A staged evening of the last two Scott Walker albums with guest stars like Jarvis Cocker and Damon Albarn seemed like a good idea at the time but turned out to be rather pretentious and dull. At the lovely Bush Hall the Carolina Chocolate Drops were the sensation my American friends said they would be. The atmosphere was wonderful and this trio performed a range of bluegrass, blues, country….you name it, which had you clapping, tapping and smiling. Finally, a rare visit by the legendary Todd Rundgren to promote his new heavy rock album. Though good, he made the mistake of following 30 minutes of oldies with an unbroken 70 minutes of the entire new album in sequence. Not all the tracks work well live and they would have been better interspersed with the old stuff. By the time he got to two great encores, much of the buzz had gone.

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To Be Straight With You

It’s a welcome initiative to make a show about the homophobic excesses of other minorities – those that consider themselves persucuted persecuting others.

It blends terrifying verbatim stories with stylised movement. It’s not DV8’s best work, but it’s an important subject handled well with a few terrific moments. I’d have liked as much dance / movement as is usual from this company.

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West Side Story

22nd October at the New Ambassadors Theatre, Wimbledon

 

Well, the second visit in Wimbledon was a mistake! Sad to say it has lost much of its sparkle.

 

The new touring cast are at best under-rehearsed and at worst under-cast. It feels cramped on the New Ambassadors stage, the dancing is a lot less slick and the orchestra is occasionally ragged.

 

The audience loved it, but then again they paid as much attention to each other as they did to the show, so no surprise there then.

 

I don’t often see post-West End touring versions and I’m wondering if it’s common for them to ‘short-change’ the suburbs and the provinces – though based on this audience they hardly deserve better!

 

31st August at Sadler’s Wells

 

The rather mixed reviews lowered my expectations of this, my sixth West Side Story in 28 years on both sides of the Atlantic; however, it turns out to be unquestionably the best.

 

It is of course the greatest musical of the 20th Century and the only one that has successfully integrated music dance and drama. In a 2008 London plagued by knife crime, it proves its timelssness effortlessly.

 

The staging is simple but effective; the B&W photo backdrops and tenement fire escapes create the period and location perfectly, leaving enough space for the terrific dances. The lighting is particularly good.

 

The thing about this cast is that their singing and dancing talent are equal and they were totally believable. Though they were all good, I have to single out Elisa Cordova as Maria and Oneika Phillips as Anita both of whom were sensational.

 

I think a second visit after the transfer to Wimbledon may be in order…..

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in-i

Acting meets dance in what may be a vanity project, but somewhat surprisingly tells a story in a unique way and holds the attention for its 60 minute running time.

Unlike the pointless experimentation of Katie Mitchell on the same stage, this one seems just about worth the effort. But is it what the National is for?

This month we have one of the aforementioned pretentious experiments, two dance pieces, an Irish import, three return runs (two of which are monologues), a Pinter platform expanded to a full evening…..and one new in-house production. Meanwhile the Donmar, the Almeida, The Young Vic, the Old Vic, the Barbican and others unfunded or less funded are providing theatre goers with the quality productions the National used to provide. Time for a wake-up call, Mr Hytner – are you still in tune with your audience?

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I took the opportunity of a slow start to business post holiday season to catch a lot more culture than just theatre this month and here’s a summary.

The Art highlight was Seizure. Artist Roger Hiorns sealed up a disused ground floor flat, drilled a hole in the ceiling, filled it with a copper sulphate solution and left it for 3 weeks. When it was drained, if left behind a blue crystal grotto which you can now enter; quite extraordinary. Wierd Inventions in the IP centre at the at the British Library is a handful of cases displaying some of the most bizzarre things ever patented and it made me laugh out loud, as did the Beano & Dandy 70th Birthday Exhibition at the Cartoon Museum; fond memories. There were some great rock photos in the Keith Morris photo exhibition; I’d never heard of him and was amazed to see some iconic photos for LP covers, such as Elvis Costello’s ‘My Aim Is True’. The Ilumini exhibition in the crypt of a church at St Pancras was a bit hit-and-miss and didn’t really come together under the theme of light & art, but the antiqueTravel Posters at Sotherans were great.

Catching up with recent cinema releases I was captivated by Somers Town, a heart-warming tale of the friendship between the son of a Polish immigrant and a runaway from the Midlands. The Wackness was just that- a charming whacky coming of age tale set in NYC with a terrifically funny turn from Ben Kingsly as a dope-smoking analyst who refuses to grow up. At the Ritzy, it was shown in digital HD and the quality was sensational. I loved The Duchess; one of the best costume dramas for years which is beautifully designed and directed and has an excellent performance from Keira Knightly who up to now I hadn’t really rated. Finally, I caught up with the new Indiana Jones film and thought it was much more fun that the reviews suggested; there were some great tongue-in-cheek moments.

During a trip ‘Up North’ to check up on the Hawkins-Watsons, we went to Leeds Town Hall for their 150th birthday concert. It’s a gorgeous building and the entirely British programme contained items of significance in terms of previous performances there. In the same trip we saw Northern Ballet Theatre’s latest dance drama Two Cities, based on the Dickens novel. Though I love their style, it was a rather over-ambitious story to tell in dance, as was their Hamlet which I saw earlier this year at Sadler’s Wells.

My final Prom was a surreal experience; they had programmed a Vaughan Williams symphony and Holst’s Planets with a Xenakis 45-min percussion piece, so it was bound to end in tears! During the Xenakis, the conservatives in the seats behaved like ageing delinquents – talking, booing, and walking out. I’m afraid I had to reprimand the 70-something in H37 as I was not prepared to let his disrespect for the rest of the audience go unpunished! As it happens, I didn’t really like the Xenakis myself, but that’s not the point. At the Wigmore Hall, a recital of English song was a bit hit-and-miss; Christopher Maltman getting more hits and Joan Rogers more misses. Finzi outshone Vaugham Williams & Howells on this occasion.

Another successful opera weekend in Cardiff where quality and value continue to reign at WNO. I loved everything about their new production of Verdi’s Otello – the design (more gold and red broccade that you’ll see in your lifetime; and that was just Act 3!), the staging, the terrific chorus and orchestra and an on-form team of Dennis O’Neill, Amanda Roocroft and David Kempster (I think this is his first Iago, in which case it’s a triumph) in the lead roles. The Barber of Seville was a delightful Commedia del Arte production which didn’t look its (20+ years) age and came over sparking and fresh. Back at the Lindbury Studio at Covent Garden, an opera for children called Varjak Jaw had a lot to recommend it but as you got under half of the words it seemed to me to be rather inaccessible to its target audience. They clearly know this as they were thrusting a free synopsis into your hand before you entered the auditorium. Better vocal composition, better diction and surtitles might have helped more.

It was a good year for London Open House. Our tour of the Beefeater Distillery in Kennington (the only London Gin still distilled in London, so I’ve switched brands as a result!) was the highlight. A trip to eco-homes at BedZed in Wallington was very interesting. The tour of the 2012 Olympic site made you gasp at the scale of it all. Will Alsop’s Palestra building was a bit of a disappointment (to be honest, we didn’t feel that welcome and they didn’t try very hard). A couple more livery companies to add to my collection – The Painter Stainers and the Barber Surgeons – completed the weekend.

In the same action-packed weekend, we were lucky enought to catch a try-out of comedian Mark Thomas’ new show – mostly new material (and some old stuff he delivers so well it bears a lot of repeating) based on his new book on Coca Cola which I can’t wait to read.

I was invited to the press launch of the transfer from Australia of the stage musical of Priscilla Queen of the Desert. They’d flown over the Aussie cast during a gap in their tour and we were treated to some extracts, as a result of which I headed straight to the box office! ‘Costumes’? – I’m not sure the word does it justice!

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Dorian Gray

This isn’t Matthew Bourne’s best work, but there is much to enjoy.

The updating of the story works surprisingly  well. A waiter is spotted by an advertising executive and becomes the face of a new fragrance. As he rises in celebrity he descends in integrity, ultimately leading to murder.

It’s a  dark work and the choreography of the intimate scenes, where Bourne is at his most inventive, work better than the ensembles. The score is patchy – the slow sultry jazz fits perfectly whereas the pounding club beats jar somewhat. The stylish design is spot on.

There are some lovely moments – photographic shoots, writhing bodies in underwear, (more than) three in a bed, a hilarious sofa scene and a very funny spoof of the Jonathan Ross Show – and the emotional and psychological heart of the story survives. 

We don’t see many new dance dramas, and none this erotic!, so it’s a welcome addition to the world of contemporary dance.

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