(Un)Leashed – Birmingham Royal Ballet at Sadler’s Wells 25/06/19

cw-37338-914x520Two new works and one audience favourite come together to form (Un)Leashed, Birmingham Royal Ballet’s second run at Sadler’s Wells this season with a programme featuring creations exclusively by female choreographers.

First seen in 2012, Lyric Pieces, provides an opportunity to luxuriate in the fine quality of movement from these technically assured dancers. They flow easily through the intricate choreography, while black folding paper props are manipulated by the ensemble in manoeuvres just about labour intensive enough not to be distracting.

The black concertinas are used creatively as walls, bridges and hiding places. The wittiest use of this backdrop is when four dancers mimic piano keys, which jump to attention as they are conducted by a dancer who takes centre stage.

The many transitions are smooth and Jessica Lang’s choreography is crisp, carefully drilled and well placed. Maureya Lebowitz is perky and commanding in the cheerful March of the Trolls segment while Tzu-Chao Chou cuts a vulnerable figure in the solitary In Ballad Style that sees him alienated from the main ensemble.

Offering some contrast, two driving narrative pieces follow. Choreographer Didy Veldman turns her attention to the pressures of modern society in new commission A Sense of Time. It’s a restless, stirring creation that builds effectively with Veldman’s skill for pace and structure. There a high sense of freneticism made all the more ravishing by the moody orchestral score interspersed with electronic accompaniment.

Read the full review on CultureWhisper.com

Somnium: A Dancer’s Dream at Sadler’s Wells 20/06/19

1Somnium-1570Neil and Katya Jones are not only Strictly Come Dancing professionals, but one of the most triumphant couples on the competitive circuit to feature on the BBC show. They have won the Amateur World Championships and competed at the top end of the Professional one before joining Strictly.

With their talent and creativity, surely they could create a tour de force dance show, brimming with originality? Alas not – Somnium is a bitty production, bursting with ideas, yet never settling on one specific focus.

Ticket sales may have been poor for the four performances (the top circle is closed off for two of them) but Neil and Katya should be admired for pushing their dream all the way to the Sadler’s Wells stage. It’s taken 15 years to get Strictly to London’s premier dance house, and as they dance an idyllic rumba that completes Act I, it’s hard not to get caught up in the achievement of getting Latin dancing on this particular platform.

15058720-7165085-image-a-2_1561069264096To the love story. We are taken briefly through the lives of the couple’s parents, their meeting, the birth of Neil and Katya in the north of England and St Petersburg respectively, and their first meeting at Blackpool Tower Ballroom. We’re then taken on an accelerated journey of their dating while competing. Romantic music interspersed with something more rocky and intense to denote the strain of competition. It’s busy and chaotic, and – with a few tweaks – could be an effective storytelling device.

The real disappointment comes from how the story is acted out. The Joneses very much ham up their love story on stage; there is little authenticity on show until glimmers are seen in the wedding rumba section. Facial expressions are exaggerated and there is no feeling of the chemistry the audience want, as we fail to get the full picture of how they fell in love and instead have silly interludes of men in fringed catsuits doing the “Apache (Jump on It)” dance.

Somnium: A Dancer’s Dream ran at Sadler’s Wells 20-22 June

English National Ballet’s Cinderella at the Royal Albert Hall 06/06/19


Swapping the Coliseum for the vastness of the unique space at London’s Royal Albert Hall, English National Ballet’s summer blockbuster is billed as their “biggest production to date”.

Christopher Wheeldon’s Cinderella was created for Dutch National Ballet in 2012 and first seen in the UK in 2015. Now, a restaged version made especially for the distinctive in-the-round venue sees it meet new demands.

What a production it is, overwhelming in visual details – from Natasha Katz’s atmospheric lighting that brings a sense of menace to the opening scenes, to the glamour of Julian Crouch’s grand costumes for attendants at the ball. The accomplished corps de ballet, here bulked up for the larger stage with third-year dancers from English National Ballet school, is also pivotal in meeting the ambitious scale required.

Katja-Khaniukova-and-Jeffrey-Cirio-in-Cinderella-in-the-round-c-Laurent-Liotardo-2For both young and old, Wheeldon’s storytelling is impressive throughout. You will be hard pressed to find a more lucidly presented narrative in any full-length ballet.

Emma Hawes and Katja Khaniukova are a playful pairing, a whirlwind of ego and narcissism as the a terrible twosome of step-sisters – Hawes taking the role of the more frivolous flirtatious one, whilst Khaniukova is goofy in her heavy-framed specs and dorky grin. Both are well suited to Wheeldon’s physical choreography, with frequent tumbles to the floor in flouncy skirts.

Read the full review on BroadwayWorld.com

Images: Laurent Liotardo

The Firebird / A Month in the Country / Symphony in C at the Royal Opera House 04/06/19


A mixed bill of true contrasts is served up by the Royal Ballet for the last run of performances of the 18/19 season. From the tempestuous Firebird set to Igor Stravinsky’s seminal score, Ashton’s quaint and quietly heartbreaking A Month in the Country, to the bold and technically exposing masterclass of Balanchine’s Symphony in C.

Mikhail Fokhine’s The Firebird premiered in Paris in 1910 based on Russian folklore and myth but the plot is secondary in this 45 minute whirlwind, a fever-dream of a ballet that can essentially be boiled down to a good defeating evil. It features undoubtedly unique designs despite it’s obvious dating as a piece.

Yasmine Naghdi makes a confident debut; she is flighty and lively in the title role with stern, steely eyes. She handles the ferocious physicality of the early moments with grace, her demeanour only shifting towards something approaching tenderness upon meeting Edward Watson’s Ivan Tsarevich. Her interpretation is detailed and dignified, with stylised flicks of her hand and arms.

When Watson’s character of Tsarevich’s falls in love with one of 13 enchanted princesses trapped in a garden, he decides to confront the immortal Kostchei (Gary Avis) to get her released. Avis is a vision here in full villainous regalia, his look completed with delicious gold talons hanging off his hands that he uses liberally to poke his loyal followers.

Read the full review on BroadwayWorld.com

Image: Tristram Kenton

Sergei Polunin – Rasputin at the London Palladium 31/05/19

Sergei Polunin and Johan Kobborg in RASPUTIN. Credit Alexey KerkisThe second offering of Sergei Polunin’s London Palladium residency is a new full-length narrative work, Rasputin, choreographed by the former Hamburg Ballet soloist, Yuka Oishi.

Rasputin was a mysterious figure who felt himself misunderstood – it’s easy to understand his appeal to the maverick Polunin.

Oishi’s narrative depicts how the monk Rasputin won the trust of the last tsar, Nicholas II (Alexey Lyubimov), with attempts to heal his haemophiliac son, Alexei (Djordje Kalenic), but was later condemned by the public and murdered by aristocrats.

Kirill Richter’s turbulent but driving score brings some sense of purpose to the underpowered choreography, while Ulyana Sergeenko’s costumes are rich and opulent, fitting for the Russian monarchy. Symbolically, the stage depicts a chess board. 

The narrative plods disappointingly with brief flurries of action and drama to showcase Polunin.

Unlike in the earlier mixed bill Polunin has some significant sections of choreography to get stuck into, most notably a sequence of furious warp-speed fouettés that elicits enraptured applause from the audience, like a show pony performing party tricks.

Read the full review on CultureWhisper.com

Seeta Patel’s Rite of Spring at The Place 17/05/19

maxresdefault (1)It’s fortunate to catch a version of Igor Stravinsky’s momentous work, The Rite of Spring, once a year, so to be treated to three in as many months in London, with two more to follow, is an event to savour.

English National Ballet’s interpretation of Pina Bausch’s version is a relentless fertility rite leading to the death of a sacrificial victim. The Chinese choreographer Yang Liping’s version opts for an infusion of Eastern mysticism. London-born Seeta Patel‘s Bharatanatyam treatment is as forceful as Bausch’s, but also responds elegantly to the nuances of Stravinsky’s score. The mood shifts from palpable excitement to bleakness as the fate of The Chosen One is fully realised.

The first section is bright and vibrant, the choreography full of energetic leaps and jumps that depict a game in which the six dancers alternate between the chasing and being chased. They are lively, passionate and graceful. Patel employs a recurring motif of a quivering hand, interspersed with other gestures and steps specific to the Bharatanatyam dance style she is known for, that evoke this early sense of exhilaration and anticipation.

The driving pulse of the music is skilfully combined with intricate, precise footwork and the grandeur of the slow, deliberate upper body movements. Stravinsky’s score demands a savage physicality, but Patel’s dancers, while still commanding, carry an elegance in their upright bodies, never appearing displaced or frantic. Their thunderous foot-stamps respond to the ebb and flow of the music.

Read the full review on CultureWhisper.com

Emerging Dancer 2019 at Sadler’s Wells 07/05/19

Rentaro-Nakaaki-and-Julia-Conway-dancing-Flames-of-Paris-c-Laurent-Liotardo-2Now in its 10th year, English National Ballet’s Emerging Dancer competition returned to Sadler’s Wells on May 7 with six finalists, all members of ENB’s corps de ballet, competing for the title.

Previous years have seen now fully “emerged” stars such as Cesar Corrales (Royal Ballet First Soloist), Shiori Kase (ENB Principal) and Alison McWhinney (ENB First Soloist) achieve great success and regularly be cast in Principal roles.

The simple format of three classical pas de deux and six contemporary solos makes for a succinct and satisfying evening. Unlike previous years, all finalists were introduced in one video segment, meaning the evening had great momentum moving through the performances. Compere and former Royal Ballet Principal Adam Cooper was a concise and gracious host, with the six finalists presenting a varied selection of work that showcased their versatility and passion for performing.

Alice Bellini and Shale Wagman opened the programme elegantly with their Grand Pas Classique, both demonstrating strong classical technique and natural lines. Wagman presented his partner very well amongst the complex sequence of jumps and catches whilst Bellini dug deep to pull off the extended section of jumps en pointe.

Read the full review on BroadwayWorld.com

Image: Laurent Liotardo