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Posts Tagged ‘David Nixon’

Contemporary Music

Eliza Carthy & Jim Moray’s double celebration at Union Chapel could have been so good. My favourite venue, a great 13-piece band & good song selection from Carthy. Sadly, when the whole band played, the sound just wasn’t up to it. Her voice and fiddle were often buried, I couldn’t make out most of the lyrics and it was hard to pick out individual instrumentation; in short, a shit mix. They seemed surprised and upset when they had to abandon two or three songs at the end because of the Union’s curfew; something that must have been known to the promoter (Barbican Centre) & could have been easily overcome by shortening the 30 min interval. A lost opportunity.

Classical Music

I’m not sure ‘staging’ Britten’s Canticles added that much, but it was very compelling and atmospheric. Two used dance, one acted out a scene, one had a giant film on the theatre’s brick back wall and one just used light. The music was however gorgeous, with Ian Bostridge singing all five, a stunning duet with Iestyn Davies in one and a trio, adding Benedict Nelson, in another.

Opera

Ballo, Opera Up Close’s latest offering, moves Verdi’s A Masked Ball from an 18th century Swedish court to a 21st century Swedish retail outlet on the North Circular. It’s heavily edited and the whole score is played on one piano, but most of the singing is good and it works, though it tries a bit too hard to be cheeky and irreverent and gets close to sending up the opera. Fun, though.

Dance

I much admired the Royal Ballet‘s Hansel & Gretel. Set in 50’s US – think Hitchcock’s Psycho – with a superb design by Jon Bausor, atmospheric music /soundscape by Dan Jones, original choreography by Liam Scarlett, great characterisations and excellent performances by all six dancers. You wouldn’t want to take a kid to this, though, as it’s as dark as they come with themes of abduction and hints at pedophilia. My one reservation was that there wasn’t a lot of story for 100 minutes of dance-drama.

I’m very fond of David Nixon’s unique dance dramas for Northern Ballet and The Great Gatsby is one of the best. There’s a lot of story to get over without words and the programme synopsis was essential. It looks gorgeous in Jerome Kaplan’s simple but elegant design. I loved the Richard Rodney Bennett compilation which included jazz, songs and period pieces like The Charleston. It was beautifully choreographed, including party dances, romantic moments, mysterious figures and fights. Great stuff.

Film

How disappointing Pedro Almodovar’s I’m So Excited is; such a slight piece. Carry on Flying in Spanish! It had some funny moments, enough for an episode of a Sit Com, but nowhere near enough to sustain a 90 minute feature. After The Skin I Live In, this is the second disappointment in a row from him.

In contrast, the new Star Trek film turns out to be the best yet. Benedict Cumberbatch is a great baddie, Simon Pegg an excellent comic Scottie, the 3D is exceptional and the addition of humorous touches works well. The best BIG action film I’ve seen in some time.

Exactly one week after being impressed by the ballet of The Great Gatsby, I was disappointed by the film. It should have been the perfect choice for not-very-prolific Baz Luhrmann (5 films in 21 years!), but apart from the performances it was a big let-down. Achingly slow, design that looked like CGI and dreadful 3D.

Art

Souzou: Outsider Art from Japan at the Wellcome Collection was a fascinating peep into the minds of those within social facilities in Japan; untrained artists using art as therapy. From paintings to drawings to sculpture to textile work, sometimes obsessive, often original and always skilled, it’s a rich collection that should be seen – and very different from a similar exhibition I saw in Milwaukee last year.

Another good and varied selection for this year’s Deutshe Borse Photography Prize on show at the Photographer’s Gallery – B&W pictures of deprivation, images of war set to Brecht’s words, voyeuristic views of prostitutes plying their trade on roadsides and a surreal review of the aborted Zambian space mission!

It’s always a good idea to add an hour to a Chichester theatre trip as it gives you the excuse to visit the Palant House Gallery which has a fine collection of 20th century British art. The bonus last time was Frida Kahlo & Diego Riviera; this time it was a comprehensive retrospective of Ralph Kitaj, the hospital drawings of Barbara Hepworth (which reminded me of Henry Moore’s war drawings) and a room of Paul Nash drawings & memorabilia. Lovely combination in a lovely space.

Treasures of the Royal Courts at the V&A was another of those manufactured-to-get-an-admission-fee shows museums have become fond of since they went free (by government endowment!). Much of it was from their own permanent collection, which you can see free at any time,  and the Russian connection was a weak one. Boo!

I’m very fond of the documentary B&W photos of Brazilian Sebastiao Salgado and his marathon tour of the remotest parts of the world to record nature is impressive. Genesis at the Natural History Museum though was one project where he really should have used colour, as it becomes monotonous and fails to record the magic of the places he visited. That said, I’m glad I went.

Killing time at the NT, I discovered a lovely exhibition of Norman Parkinson‘s iconic photographs of fashion and famous people. Highly posed and therefore unnatural, but somehow fresh and lovely. In the same building, there was another fascinating exhibition of textile artworks by Lalla Ward called Vanishing Act; in effect, animals and insects camouflaged and hiding in the artworks!

Brighton is a long way to go for a one-hour performance, so off I went in the afternoon before for a personally selected self-guided art tour of seven installations / exhibitions. The best was Finnish artist Kaarina Kaikkonen‘s clothing sculpture at Fabrica (c.400 shirts in a deconsecrated church!) and her ‘dressing’ of the clock tower. I also liked Emma Critchley‘s video of herself swimming, shown inside a container on the seafront!  Mariele Neudeker‘s work spanned three spaces, but only some impressed (an iceberg in a Regency house!), ten c.4 min video’s of men moving was too much to do anything other than ‘sample’ and the shadow of a drone painted on Madeira Drive was just making a point.

A double treat at the British Museum. The Pompeii & Herculaneum exhibition is stuffed full of wonderfully preserved, extraordinary things; more domestic than stately. It’s beautifully curated, laid out like the homes the items were found in. The events which led to their burial and preservation were well covered and the human stories moved you. You have to suffer lots of kids obsessed with finding anything erotic, but it’s worth it! It was pensioner-rage at Ice Age Art, fighting to get a glimpse at the tiny 20,000-40,000 year-old items. When you did, you were richly rewarded but this time the curation made it harder, not easier.

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What would we do without NBT? They produce at least one new ballet / dance drama almost every year (this year we saw Covent Garden’s first new full evening work for 15 years – 20 years since once with a new score). With an Arts Council grant of c.£2.5m, they take their work to the taxpayers of 16 British cities against Birmingham Royal Ballet’s 4 cities (£7.5m grant) and the Royal Ballet’s 1 city (they rarely get off their arses and leave London) for its share of Covent Garden’s £28m. Oh, and NBT’s tickets cost half those at Covent Garden, so they are also significantly more accessible. If taking a brand new ballet danced by a talented young company with excellent production values and a brand new score from a titan of musical theatre to 11 cities in England, Scotland and Wales isn’t value for taxpayers money, I’ll eat my tutu – well, if I had one…..End of rant!

The life of Cleopatra is perfect for dance, though covering her whole life in two hours is rather ambitious. It takes us from her joint rule of Egypt with her brother (following the death of her father) to her murder of her brother, her marriage to Caesar, birth of their child, moving to Rome, death of Caesar (Interval!) return to Egypt, the arrival of Anthony, fighting Octavia for him, invasion by Rome and the death of them both. Phew! You can’t expect a detailed story, but what you do get is a clear dramatic flow through time and events, good characterisation of people and countries and, in the second half, the emotional journey of this iconic relationship.

The second half works better than the first. The duet (I know that’s not the ballet term!) between Cleopatra and Anthony is very sexy, the battle scene is very muscular and the deaths poignant. The idea of Wadjet the snake-god as Cleopatra’s protector is excellent and provides an elegant framing for the story. Some of David Nixon’s choreography was a bit quirky for me, but when it mattered it was good. The simple set, designed by the director and Christopher Giles with great projections by Nina Dunn, looked beautiful and allowed the work to breathe unencumbered. There were one or two odd costume choices (my companion thought the Roman’s were a bit off -kilter, as it were!) but these were also mostly appropriate and elegant. Claude-Michel Schonberg’s score is lovely – even better than the one he wrote for Wuthering Heights – particularly in the second act love and death scenes.

I’m sure we didn’t get the first cast, but they were all excellent anyway. Julie Charlet made a lovely Cleopatra – assertive and sensuous in equal measure. Ashley Dixon was every bit the handsome soldier lover, at home dancing the love scenes and the fight scenes. Darren Goldsmith’s snake god glided and slithered with grace. This is a very young good-looking company who are always a pleasure to watch.

I think I’ve seen seven or eight of their dance dramas, and this is one of the best they’ve done…..and fantastic value for tax-payers!

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Like I did with that other Covent Garden rarity – a new opera (Anna Nicole) – I’m making an exception by blogging an even rarer thing – a new full length ballet. I gather it’s c.15 years since the last one and c.20 years since one with a new score. I’m not a fan of mixed bills and I exhausted the repertoire of full evening works some time ago, so a potential treat was in store.

This is more in the Northern Ballet Theatre dance drama mould than classical ballet, which might be the reason why I enjoyed it so much – the latter can be very fusty and fussy. They’ve engaged playwright Nicholas Wright to provide a scenario, which is maybe why the dramatic flow is so good, and Joby Talbot’s score is hugely impressive. Designer Bob Crowley’s imagination has run wild and produced some stunning witty sets and even more stunning costumes. Jon Driscoll (fresh from creating the extraordinary tornado in Kansas which is one of the highlights of The Wizard of Oz) and Gemma Carrington provide brilliant projections. The production values are second to none and only Covent Garden has the resources to stage something this spectacular (If he’s sees this, NBT’s David Nixon will turn green permanently).

Zenaida Yanowsky takes your breath away as the Queen of Hearts. Eric Underwood is astonishingly agile as the Caterpillar, Steven McRae makes a wonderful Mad Hatter and all three leads – Edward Watson’s White Rabbit, Sergei Polunin as the Knave and Lauren Cuthbertson as Alice – dance brilliantly. Then there’s the Duchess…….why they cast an actor rather than a dancer I don’t know, but if you’re going to have an actor for a Panto Dame-like comic part, you won’t get better than Simon Russell Beale. Watching him take ballet bows at the end, he looked completely at home – like a dancer who has moved on to those ‘character’ parts like they do as they age.

With Anna Nicole, The Wizard of Oz and this within a fortnight, I’m in danger of overdosing on colourful spectacle, but I wouldn’t have missed this for the world and there’s so much detail, I’m just going to have to go again when it returns.

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