Woolf Works … or doesn’t

Location: Royal Opera House, London

Date: Monday 11 May 2015

Wayne McGregor, the resident choreographer for the Royal Ballet, has finally made a three act story ballet … and I really, really wanted to like it.

Woolf Works is based on the works of Virginia Woolf and I guess I was starting out at a disadvantage having never read anything by Ms Woolf. However with a well choreographed piece I really shouldn’t have to do homework in preparation. The ‘three act ballet’ was, as the title suggests, split into three separate acts which were titled separately and represented separate novels by Woolf as well as different parts of her life. To me not a cohesiveive three act ballet… more of a trilogy.

‘I Now, I Then’ is the first piece. The music for this section, composed by Max Richter was incredible. It was epic and overarching, including both the orchestra and recorded sounds which mixed together beautifully. Alessandra Ferri took the lead role in this piece at the grand age of 52 (I do not want to be subjecting my body to ballet at 52 so good on her!). She was as beautiful and elegant as any of the other ballerinas on the stage however she did seem to have more of a fragility about her, especially compared to Beatrix Stix-Brunell who seems so robust and powerful on stage you almost feel she might knock everyone else over (in my notes I have Beatrix’s name circled with a 10! next to it, I think I liked her). Federico Bonelli did a wonderful job of partnering both women and Edward Watson was his usual creepy self. I have to say I was truly excited to see the costumes in this piece, proper dresses in a 1930s style and suits for the men.

The choreography however was … poor. I’ve seen it all before! In every other Wayne McGregor piece I’ve ever watched. A twiddly hand here, a wagging foot there, wrap your leg around your head, do a body roll and bob’s your uncle. I find his work too over complicated to ever be emotionally moving and utterly impossible to grasp a story from. A task made even more difficult by the programme, there was no synopsis, not even an explanation of what this piece was trying to achieve. The only writing about the piece was quotes from books I haven’t read and quotes from the choreographer that would have been more at home in an Ikea manual for all the sense they made! Then each of these extracts was overlaid on top of one another one the same page … confusing or what!

Other than using Virginia Woolf as its inspiration ‘Becomings’, the second piece, had absolutely no relation to the first piece at all. The setting for this I will admit was amazing, at one point they bent light! No, seriously, spotlights shining on stage were casting beams of light that bent upwards towards the ceiling. I have no idea how they managed that but if I ever meet Lucy Carter (lighting designer) I will be interrogating her. The costumes were …. Ummm … interesting? Based on, I guess, Elizabethan court dressed they were made out of shiny, gold foil with ruffs, wide underskirts and corsets for both men and women. Just bizarre, in fact they were so strange and impossible to dance in that by the end of the piece most of them had disappeared and we were back to the standard grey t-shirt and pants that seems to fill all of McGregor’s rep. This piece had just about every star of the company thrown at it so really it should have been good but the choreography was exactly the same as the last 34 minutes I had already watched. He seems to have no light and shade to his work, no matter what the music is doing the dancers keep up the same frantic movements without any relation to it. I also have the feeling that by the end of the piece he was running out of ideas. With all the dancers on stage he had them dance in a big circle with a spotlight in the middle. They each ran through the light and performed some massive leap or jump. Then they split into two smaller circles, did the same and then split again… techniques I have seen my students (and me) use when completely out of ideas and trying to kill time…. and that I’ve told them (and me) off for as lazy choreography! In fact it was so obvious it made me laugh… I don’t think the woman next to me was happy.

‘Tuesday’, the third piece, started with a reading of Virginia Woolf’s suicide letter. A letter so beautiful I defy anyone to listen to it without feeling emotional. The movement in this piece was much more fluid and calm (although this may have been the large glass of wine I had in the interval) and the background projection of rolling waves added to this. There was an ensemble of dancers in this piece which made for a much more rounded feeling and I did wonder if this was the first dance choreographed for the show as a whole. It seems to have a beginning and end and contained a beautiful pas de deux with Federico Bonelli and Alessandra Ferri. All in all the best out of the three.

I can’t say that I liked Woolf Works, as much as I wanted to, but given my previous opinions of McGregor’s work he would have had to do something completely out of character to woo me. I find his work positional and frantic with very little space for emotion or feeling and very little light and shade for use of expression. You can see that the dancers love performing his work and the movement looks like it feels great to dance, it’s just disappointing (and slightly boring) to watch! I also think as the resident choreographer for the Royal Ballet he should be using the whole company and have a cast that includes more people than just the stars.

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The King of Fashion

Date: Saturday 2nd May 2015

Location: Victoria and Albert Museum, London

Its fashion time again! Another outing with my cousin as she educates me in the ways of the world’s elite designers, this time is was Alexander McQueen.  Yet again I knew nothing, all I knew about him was that he was a designer and he sadly isn’t with us any more… that’s it (sorry fashion world!).  But I am always happy to be educated in something new so on a Saturday morning (after a heavy Friday night) I dragged myself out of bed to get all the way to South Ken for 11:00AM. Slightly late, and honestly a little disorientated, I met my cousin who was, thankfully, in exactly the same state.

After waiting for what seemed a very long time we were let into an extremely crowed exhibition. It became clear quite quickly that it was going to be ‘one of those shows you have to queue your way around’ to quote my cousin.  But the items on display were so wonderful you didn’t mind taking your time (and probably holding up the people behind!).  Grouped by style and feel the collections were split up and the pieces recombined in new ways, which meant you saw each item separately as opposed to part of a collection.

His works, although weird and wacky in their outward look, are exquisitely made and beautifully tailored. You find yourself walking round thinking ‘if you just took off that skull/gimp mask/straight jacket I’d totally wear that dress!’. There were some pieces, including a beautiful corseted, ivory and blood red dress with a tulle skirt and Swarovski crystals from the ‘Girl who lived in a tree’ collection; that I would have happily just walked off with had security not been watching.

The exhibition was long, really long! Well worth the money paid for it and each room was so different from the last it kept your interest right until the end. Each room had been amazingly decorated to convey the ideas of the clothes it contained. Maybe the most memorable was a room with a very high ceiling and shelf upon shelf up every wall housing all sorts of shoes, bags, headdresses, belts, tops and dresses. It can only be described as an emporium of wonders. We spent a good 20 minutes just sitting, trying to possibly take in all of the items on display.

When we came back out, blinking in the light of the day, 2 hours had gone past and we were starving! We fell into the closet place still serving breakfast which happened to be Muriel’s Kitchen. Between us we had one Egg’s Royale, one Egg’s Florentine, one side portion of Rosemary Potatoes, one Blueberry Pancakes, one tea, one coffee, two freshly squeezed orange juices and some tap water. It all got eaten.

Carmen … but not

Date: Thursday 30 April 2015

Location: Almeida Theatre, Islington, London

So this one was a bit weird. Carmen Disruption is the new play by Simon Stephens, The guy who also wrote ‘The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night Time (otherwise known as that play with the long title where the roof fell in at the theatre). I’ve no idea what TCIOTDITNT (had to shorten it somehow …) was like, I never got around to seeing it so I couldn’t tell you if this play was typical for him but I can tell you that really, it was a bit strange.

Don’t let the name fool you, although the characters had the same names as those in Bizet’s opera and there was an opera singer, the similarities stopped there. The characters may have had the same names but they had purposely been changed to be as different from the expected as possible. Carmen became a rent boy, Don Jose became a female taxi driver and Micaela a student who has quite clearly just ended an affair with her university lecturer. You could almost say the characters were a little too predictable in their polar opposition to stereotypes. Interestingly, none of these characters had any relation to each other at all. Which means your brain has got to work for the whole 90 minutes you’re watching this show. No drifting off allowed. That’s not necessarily a problem as it definitely keeps your interest piqued, the moment you think you’re just starting to understand a character the focus changes onto a different part and you’re dragging up what you learnt about this person last time they spoke… So that’s another thing, all speech is directed at you, the audience, which meant I ended up feeling like I had some sort of responsibility for these people on the stage who were generally making fairly poor decisions (couldn’t decide whether I felt sorry for them or wanted to give them a slap back to their senses). I guess this was intended by the author but it doesn’t make for a comfortable viewing experience.

Through all of these strange stories the figure of ‘Carmen’ herself stalks, not speaking but singing snippets of information. Most of which you get but some could have done with some subtitles (age old dispute of opera sung in English).  It’s an interesting addition to the play and I’m not sure it added much, but then I don’t particularly like opera.

I’ve said all of this and I know it sounds like I didn’t like it, but I did. It was different and new and therefore took some getting used to but each of us came out saying ‘I think I liked that’. I couldn’t handle every play to be like this and I’m not sure I’d want to see it again but I did enjoy the 90 minutes I was watching it.

 

 

The Classic

Date: Friday 13 March 2015

Location: Royal Opera House, London

They say that a lot in life has to do with timing. Have bad timing and you’ll miss some important moments or meeting some important people. Have good timing and, well, you won’t miss a thing! But then it’s not really something you can control so maybe timing is synonymous with luck. Whichever it is, the timing/luck was spot on for the performance of Swan Lake I saw with my Mum on Friday 13th March (take that Friday 13th!).

To start with the cast was brilliant, Osipova and Golding taking the leads, Francesca Haywood, Alexander Campbell and Yuhui Choe in the pas de trios and pretty much all of my favourites somewhere in the corps. The company had just come back from a week’s break and they looked refreshed and rejuvenated for it. Then to add to that I don’t know what was happening back stage but they all seemed to be on absolutely top form! Swan Lake is pretty amazing to begin with but with the atmosphere and the dancing being this good it was one on the most moving performances I have ever seen.

Golding was, as always … dreamy (I think this a good word … I’m sticking with it). Technically great and a wonderful dance actor, transporting you into the story with ease. Osipova was … astonishing (used this word for her before but it works … so I’m sticking with this too). Dancing as Odette she is amazing but I can’t warm to her particularly. Although the technique is perfect and the acting is on point, it feels like just that. Acting. It doesn’t feel real. However as Odile there are no words!!! If you’ve never seen Swan Lake there’s this point in Act III where the ballerina has to do 32 fouettes (spin on pointe on one foot 32 times). It’s a classic, it has a massive build up and as an audience member you cross your fingers for the ballerina and start counting, hoping to the gods of ballet that she will get to that sacred number. There are those dancers where the gods do not need to be called upon and they like to add in some double turns every now and again just to show that, yes, they can do this fine thank you very much. But Osipova … oh Osipova … she did double, double, triple (!), double, double, triple(!?!) for maybe the first 8 bars!!!! I have never ever seen anyone dance the solo like that! The applause had started by half way through and carried on straight through her solo, into Golding’s solo and out the other side. JUST AMAZING!!

But enough about the stars, the corps carry the bulk of the work in Swan Lake and they were just as brilliant, if not more. The party in act III was a proper party! You could feel the enjoyment and passion coming off the stage in waves. But this was as nothing to the power and the emotion that was blasted into the audience during act IV. They say ‘hell hath no fury like a woman scorned’ but I’m sorry, hell cannot even begin to match the fury of a woman whose friend has been scorned. Times this by 30 odd friends, turn them all into swans, turn the scorning man into an evil wizard and you might have some idea of what I’m talking about. I found myself wanting to join in with them and the voice inside my head was screaming ‘Yeah girls, you go! Die Rothbart die!!’. It was just about the most passionate performance of Swan Lake I have ever seen and I could feel myself welling up just with the pure raw emotion of it all.

Definitely a night to be remembered for a long time and to start a few stories with ‘do you remember that time we saw the really good version of Swan Lake at the Royal…?’

So Bravo Royal Ballet, Bravo

Getting my country on

Date: Saturday 7th to Sunday 8th March 2015

Location: O2 Arena, London

I’m happy to say that this post marks 1 year of writing this blog (yey!) which is doubly exciting because it means that I went to County 2 Country again.

My friend YC and I headed out to Greenwich for both days this year as one of our favourite bands The Pauper Kings nee McKay (can you use nee in this sense?! … Never mind, just did) were only playing the one day this year… being the nice people we are we took an extra trip just to see them. It was well worth it as they filled the Brooklyn Bowl yet again and gave a fab performance! The show included some of their new stuff, which sounded great and I can’t wait to hear more of. Now if only they’d get a move on and release their new album!

The second day we had tickets to the main event which included Lady Antebellum headlining the main stage (squee!) plus three other acts that I didn’t know (not a bad thing, last year I discovered The Band Perry, well worth it). Before heading into the main arena we stopped off again at the Brooklyn Bowl to see the new buzz about town ‘The Shires’. A two piece band originally from Hertfordshire (get it?) who have stormed onto the country music scene and just got themselves a top 10 place on the UK album charts. They were brilliant. The laid back, acoustic, country songs get right into your head and their funny and on point lyrics make you feel everything a country song should. Yet they still manage to give off a uniquely British vibe, a sound you can’t put your finger on but you know it sounds like home (and no, it’s not the fact that they are singing about tea and fish & chips).

The acts on the main stage this year were a bit of a mix. The first act on was Kip Moore, a solo artist with a gravelly voice guaranteed to conjure up images of a porch, a rocking chair and a guitar somewhere in the deep south. His set was great but one song stood out among all the others and caused YC and me to stop talking and listen (no mean feat). It’s called ‘Hey Pretty Girl’ and is just about the most romantic love song I have ever heard. Not to be listened to while in an emotional state but if you feel up to it the link is here – I think I’m up to 57 plays already (can you tell I’m slightly obsessive).

The next act was Brantley Gilbert (you could be nothing but American with a name like that) who I don’t think I’m a fan of, sorry. I could barely hear the words he was singing, or rather shouting, into the mic and seeing that the lyrics are the most important part of music to me it made it kind of pointless. It didn’t help that he was fairly open about his love of guns and I happen to be fairly open about my hatred of them … Maybe not a match made in heaven.

However all was forgiven when Lady Antebellum stepped on the stage. They are so good!! Previously to this show I only had the ‘Need You Now’ album, which is wonderful and one of my favourite albums, but it’s by no means all of their music. Not knowing half the songs didn’t matter at all though as it’s just as easy to dance along with them as it is to sing. They also seem like super friendly people and genuinely happy to be there which rubs off on the audience. It was just a fun and joyful show which played all of their major hits including ‘Need You Now’ which was a damn sight better that when Cheryl Cole and Gary Barlow murdered it at the Queen’s Jubilee. I obviously went straight out and bought their latest album … I am a PR’s dream customer.

C2C was well worth a second year and I’m definitely going again … Which is just as well as next year it will be on for three days!

A trip downtown

Location: Shaftsbury Theatre, London

Date: Thursday 8th January 2015

This was my second trip to see this fantastic show, one just wasn’t enough. The show captures you right from the start with the song ‘Underground’. It sets the scene, introduces the characters and wows you all at once. Pretty good for just one song. Set in downtown Memphis in the 1950’s the plot is a pretty simple boy meets girl story with the background of the anti-racism struggles happening at the time.

Although the story is good (and has an unusual plot twist at the end) it’s not really what you’d go for, it’s the incredible singing, dancing and music which draw you back for a second time. The show starts and you think, ‘yes this is a dancing show ‘(and if you’re me you think ‘excellent!’), then a few songs in you realise everyone on that stage can sing as well and you think ‘ooo singing show too, not bad’. Then you get to the nitty gritty bits of the story and you think ‘hang on, everyone here can act their socks off too’. Basically it’s a stage full of triple threats backed by an amazing band (life does not dole out talent fairly …).

The show boasts a selection of wonderful soul and early rock and roll songs that will have you tapping your toes even if you don’t want to and you will be singing along for days afterwards. Or if you’re like me and the friends I went with it will have you singing along for months afterwards having purchased the newly released West End soundtrack (Somedaaaaay I’m gonna do you wrong … shut it Ruth!)

*INSERT funnily enough I just tried to listen to said soundtrack on the train while writing this blog entry. My tablet decided that headphones just weren’t an option today and I’ve just blasted ‘Make Me Stronger’ at full volume to the whole carriage. My tablet then decided it quite liked causing me this embarrassment and froze so I was unable to turn it off. Needless to say I wasn’t everyone’s favourite passenger. But hey, if it gets stuck in their heads it’s worth it!*

All in all this is a fantastic show which I hope will stay around forever but a good show is never a guarantee of longevity in the West End so do yourself a favour and go and see it now.

 

 

Photos of Wonderland

Location: Natural History Museum, London

Date: Monday 8th December 2014

Last year I had the pleasure of being completely surprised by the Wildlife Photographer of the Year exhibition at the Natural History Museum. I wandered in thinking wildlife? Yep, like that. Photography, yep, like that too! Well it should be alright … it was so much better than alright. The hour that I had allotted myself to see it passed in the blink of an eye and before I knew it I was re-emerging into the light 3 hours later and significantly late for my next appointment. It didn’t just transport me to another world, it transported me to our world and my god is it beautiful place.

This meant that I couldn’t wait to get my second dose this year and it happens to be the competition’s 50th anniversary.  For those who haven’t visited the exhibition (firstly, go, it’s amazing) the show is split into several categories which include sections on Earth’s diversity, Earth’s design and Earth’s environments along with another section for the Young Wildlife Photographer of the Year with competitors starting at the early age of 10.

The selection of photos is breath taking, the wide and varied nature of our planet lends itself very well to modern day photography. The thing that hits you first walking into the room is the colour. From the bright orange of molten lava to the deep greens of jungle vegetation and the stark blues of endless skies and seas it’s an assault on the eyes made all the more dramatic by the minimal lighting and the black walls of the exhibition. The show itself is very well ordered leading you from one section to the next without confusing you and spending just enough time on each subject. There are loads of photos I could name that stood out this year but the one that is still in my mind is an almost disturbing photo of lonely iceberg on a deserted beach in Iceland. It’s so mysterious it feels like it could have fallen out of a storybook.

Each photo has its own description of what the subject is and where it was shot plus a word from the photographer and these small snippets of information add to the interest of the exhibition. When you understand why the photographers did what they did and where they were looking you get a much deeper view of the photo. The show also states not only where each photo was taken but where each photographer is from. The wide variety of nationalities just adds to the pleasure of this show.

As this is the 50th Anniversary the film at the end of the gallery shows every winning photo of the last 50 years and it’s great to see the massive improvements that have been made in terms of photography and how much more clearly you can see the beauty of the world these days.

If you haven’t gone yet I urge you to go to this exhibition, it’s just a wonderful, peaceful and beautiful experience looking at some very talented artists’ work.