Kevin & Karen Dance at G Live, Guildford 16/06/17

lg_20160922144753_82We’re getting towards the end of Strictly tour season. With so much choice it’s now a necessity the professional dancers try something a little different to mop up the last of the spare change in the Strictly faithful’s back pocket. Recently Janette and Aljaz brought us their homage to Fred Astaire and Joanne Clifton swapped dance for musical theatre with a stint in Thoroughly Modern Millie. Now we have Karen and Kevin Clifton giving you their life story in dance, choreographed by Strictly and Burn the Floor’s, Jason Gilkison.

Generally speaking, Karen & Kevin Dance will thrill Strictly lovers with it’s varied dance styles, storytelling and humour from start to finish. The Clifton’s presentation of their story is naturally charismatic whilst remaining deeply personal and their fans will be captivated by this dreamy fairy tale.

First published in Dancing Times – July 2017

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The Royal Ballet in The Dream / Symphonic Variations / Marguerite & Armand at the Royal Opera House 07/06/17

14320962426_1f91144006After recent performances of new choreography from Crystal Pite, Wayne McGregor and Liam Scarlett, one could be forgiven for believing the Royal Ballet has dragged itself reluctantly into the 21st century. Perhaps it’s an overly emotional response, but there is something wonderfully reassuring and warm in this Ashton triple bill that closes the current season. It’s a return to what the Royal does best in these delicate works that shine in their artistry and finesse.

Akane Takada leads the cast in a dreamy The Dream, and is a pure and decorative Titania flawlessly suited to this role, while Steven McRae is a regal Oberon, bounding about the stage, gesticulating and exuding control over the comical proceedings. Together they lack a little chemistry compared to more established partnerships, but Ashton’s wonderfully busy and well-paced staging mean there is never time for this to be a focus.

Read the full review on BroadwayWorld.com

Thoroughly Modern Millie at The Churchill Theatre, Bromley 06/06/17

TMM-Joanne-Clifton-as-Millie-and-Company-c-Darren-Bell-1030x687This take on the Hollywood classic Thoroughly Modern Millie last played Broadway back in 2002. However, regardless of the cast’s plucky efforts to inject some New York panache into proceedings, Millie emerges as a particularly poor choice for revisiting in 2017.

The story features threads that sit uncomfortably in the present day. Mrs Meers, with her chopstick-clad hair and mock Chinese accent, is amusing for ten minutes, but after a couple of scenes just seems plain racist. Millie’s chunk of the plot hangs on the idea that she needs to find a rich man to marry to get on in life. Where do I even start with that one?

The staging and set design are strong and the look of Millie would not seem out of place on a West End stage. The Twenties flapper costumes sparkle. The dusky jazz clubs smoulder and the frenetic office scenes are well choreographed.

Read the full review on BroadwayWorld.com 

‘Millie’ tour until July 15th. 

English National Ballet’s Emerging Dancer at Sadler’s Wells 25/05/17

dm-esmerelda-rina-kanehara-aitor-arrieta-pdd-stand_1000English National Ballet’s Emerging Dancer award is now in it’s eighth year and this time was able to reach an even wider audience through a live streaming from Sadler’s Wells Theatre which has had 50,000 views to date. Such an addition promoted this annual contest an even bigger opportunity for these young dancers to shine and demonstrate their capabilities in principal roles they have rarely, if ever, had the chance to dance.

Just personally, Emerging Dancer has genuinely become one of my favourite dance events of the year since I first saw it in 2014. Perhaps it’s the tension of the competition element, the opportunity for those who usually go appreciated in the corps to shine or the pomp and circumstance of a celebrity host (Arlene Phillips this year) and the three awards presented by Artistic Director Tamara Rojo at the end of the evening. I adore all it stands for, however, this year’s award seemed to suffer from a number of clunky production issues and lack of rehearsal time that hindered the enjoyment of the talent on display.

Emerging Dancer 2017 took place on May 25th at Sadler’s Wells.

Read the full review on BroadwayWorld.com

Sidi Larbi Cherkaoui’s Milonga at Sadler’s Wells 22/05/17

Eastman-mlonga

Sidi Larbi Cherkaoui’s collaboration of tango and contemporary dancers was first seen at Sadler’s Wells in 2013. milonga is a stylish 90-minute production that features some wonderfully original concepts, indulgent tango and just occasionally some more ill-judged additions.

The cast comprise of an unbalanced mix of ten tango dancers with two contemporary. The marriage of tango with contemporary is not an entirely happy one, tango fans will feel the contemporary additions sit uncomfortably and vice versa. However, with spirited live music and atmospheric touches evoking the bustling streets of Buenos Aires there is much to enjoy here.

The individual contributions from each couple are well-pitched and performed with finesse. Their distinctive personalities add colour to the cast as a whole in the ensemble numbers. German Cornejo and Gisela Galeassi’s style naturally remain true to the traditional. They are fiery, sensuous and evocative, with their warp speed leg flicks becoming harder and harder to fathom. Galeassi’s trademark leg extensions remain breathtaking too. It doesn’t matter how often you see these two, they remain flawless, awe inspiring, and audiences gasp in delight at the speed of their darting limbs.

Each number features a different overriding emotion. There’s a slower paced funeral scene where the woman dance sombrely, their faces obscured by veils. Conversely, one couple’s intense and erotic exchange boils over so uncontrollably it descends into violence, with a hearty slap in the face for the male. These small narrative fragments never develop into anything more, however.

Viviana D’Attorna and Bruno Gibertoni provide the comic relief with a light-hearted display of fun and flirty tango that climaxes in D’Attorna, who dons some oversized white-framed glasses, rejecting the ominous advances of Gibertoni. Their chemistry fizzles inconsistently and it’s good-natured intrigue that plays out in front of towering 3D projections which takes the audience on an eclectic and fast-paced journey through the city.

The brooding pas de trois – comprised of an all male cast to Libertango, a commonly used authentic piece of music from Astor Piazolla – is a choreographic highlight. Cherkaoui intelligently enlivens the well known score through a menacing face off between three tango titans, who weave between each other’s bodies with an increasing sense of urgency.

The key frustration with milonga is that tango requires no tweaking and no further investigation. Cherkaoui is attempting to break the mold with a contemporary couple, who crawl around on the floor, separated and then reunited on a crowded dancefloor, but it’s not necessary. The spectacular finale in which Galeassi is thrown above Cornejo’s head with one arm is the explosive and satisfying conclusion the audience want and it requires no further improvement.

First published on LondonDance.com

Milonga tours nationally until June 17th http://www.milongatour.co.uk/

Royal Ballet Mixed Bill (Symphonic Dances / Strapless / Tarantella / The Vertiginous Thrill of Exactitude) Royal Opera House 18/05/17

27-Ballet-choreographed-by-Liam-Scarlett-performed-by-the-Royal-Ballet-large_trans_NvBQzQNjv4BqclfnI3HAhNUHMU08wPfq49RJhXJGWlf6VXEuCEYM-ssLiam Scarlett has experienced mixed fortunes of late. His full length Frankenstein for the Royal Ballet last year was widely criticised, while his emotive piece No Man’s Land – seen as part of English National Ballet’s Lest We Forget triple bill – was a harrowing but captivating piece told concisely.

Now, Scarlett returns to the Royal presented with another prime opportunity to showcase his talents. Symphonic Dances is a substantial one act piece created to display the physical prowess with soon-to-retire Principal Zenaida Yanowsky. There is a dramatic and distinctive colour palette of reds and blacks, and Yanowsky takes centre stage in a billowing skirt. She is admired from afar by the male corps; the Queen surveying her kingdom in which they are her tiny pawns. She is strong and demands respect, her commanding presence and Rachmaninov’s powerhouse of a score creating an opening that packs a punch.

Unfortunately however, Scarlett’s work all too easily runs out of steam. The 45-minute piece is divided into sub-sections, the second of which sees Yanowsky take on a more androgynous look in a asymmetrical jacket. It’s a piece that although is engaging and passes quickly, it’s a struggle to decipher anything particularly happening. There’s some intriguing interplay between Yanowsky and her many admirers but this never draws to a satisfying climax. She is left standing scrutinising her corps for long periods which she does capably but it feels like a waste when she is so adept at creating more intense drama.

There is an all too brief pas de deux with a cautious James Hay whom she towers over intimidatingly as he attempts to melt her ice Queen exterior. Yanowsky invites him in before casting him aside with ease. The piece finally builds to a mesmerising few moments where Yanowsky and Reece Clark, a more physically equal pairing, dance in a compelling climax. It may end of a high but the overall sense is one of a disappointing emptiness.

Vertiginous-Thrill-Vadim-Muntagirov-Marianela-Nunez-cROH2017-photo-Bill-CooperThe excitement of the Scarlett world premiere is preceded by a generous prelude of three shorter works. William Forsythe’s The Vertiginous Thrill of Exactitude is a snappy opener to the evening featuring five dancers in a punishing and dynamic tour de force. It’s warp speed choreography that demands precision in it’s technique and delivery, and some handled it more successfully than others.

This is not a work that can be performed under rehearsed, and only when the dancer is at ease with the physical demands can any natural musicality and personal interpretation shine through. Marianela Nunez and Steven McRae’s experience was apparent here. They zipped through this formidable 15-minutes with satisfying aplomb.

However, Schubert’s score is a ferocious challenge and recent replacements Beatriz Stix-Brunell (covering for an injured Sarah Lamb) and Akane Takada (replacing Lauren Cuthbertson) struggled, lacking the necessary sharpness. With such precise choreography a flicker of hesitation transmits loud and clear to the audience.

Having been treated to George Balanchine’s Jewels last month, we are left with an all too fleeting input of Balanchine choreography in wonderfully frenetic ten minutes that is Tarantella. In contrast to The Vertiginous Thrills, Francesca Hayward and Marcelino Sambé ripped through this frantic gypsy-themed party piece with panache.

tarantella hayward sambeBoth of these dancers are young and fiercely committed, they dance Tarantella as if they were born to do so, possessing both the necessary charisma and technique in abundance. Sambé is a delight, his endless energy in the jumps and leaps, as well as his confident partnering, is impressive. Meanwhile Hayward is joyful and I particularly enjoyed her stylish jetés. Together the pair make a delightfully carefree partnership, and this was a near-perfect display I could watch multiple times over.

This fast-paced tone was brought to an end by the inclusion of Christopher Wheeldon’s Strapless. Premiered only last year, Strapless is strengthened by visually strong staging and thoughtful touches that evoke the Victorian era. Natalia Osipova is her silky-smooth best in a black velvet gown with crystal straps but the choreography is unexciting and underwhelming.

It’s a story of opulence and high society that should be thrilling but it’s bewilderingly slow to get started. Even the sensuous pas de trois between Osipova, artist John Singer Sargent (Edward Watson) and his lover, Albert (Matthew Ball) cannot enliven the storytelling. The imagery, Sargant’s vision of his lover that comes later, is too obvious and the unveiling of the completed painting is drawn out, so much so that the audiences forget any investment they had in the characters.

Criticisms aside, it’s danced by a mouth-watering array of principals who do their best to uplift the piece from its failings. Watson is a neurotic, self absorbed protagonist who agonises over his decisions convincingly, evidence of his recent stint as Prince Rudolph in Mayerling still present. Osipova is flawless, her glorious extensions and technical strength saving the day, she exudes a knowing mischief as she toys with Samuel-Jean Pozzi (Federico Bonelli) and latterly Sargant. However, to become less of a chore, Strapless requires some ruthless editing and choreographic reworking.

Although, the inclusion of the Wheeldon piece is jarring in a bill that features no other linear narratives, this is a largely enjoyable and varied evening of contemporary ballet. It demands a plethora of emotions from these diligent dancers and who commit themselves wholeheartedly to everything thrown at them.

First published on LondonDance.com

#ROHSymphonicMixed runs until May 31

Rambert – Ghost Dances Triple Bill at Sadler’s Wells 16/05/17

GHOST DANCES, Festival Theatre, Edinburgh, Britain - 22 Nov 2016Britain’s oldest ballet company, Rambert, recently celebrated their 90th birthday. In this varied triple bill they present a contrasting mix of work which includes a classic, a recent favourite and something totally new.  It has to be said, the oldest work here really is the best.

The days run away like wild horses is a brand new work from versatile opera, theatre and dance choreographer,  Aletta Collins.  It explores the idea of lives intertwining and daily repetition inspired by Zbiginiew Rybczynski’s 1981 film, Tango. The beginning and end are homages to the film and are also the more memorable moments of the work.

The family home is a distinct lilac colour and we see various characters come and go: a mother tends to her baby, an arguing couple, a man ferociously jogging and a schoolgirl. Katrina Lindsay’s bright set and costume designs combined with these strong characterisations felt very much like a set piece from a Matthew Bourne production.

Read the full review on CultureWhisper.com

Ghost Dances runs until May 20th