Wednesday, 2 December 2009

Knight doesn't take Queen: Endgame, Duchess Theatre

Is musical theatre really the panacea for these uncertain times? For the West End is currently taken with the plays of Samuel Beckett, that arch-miserabilist modernist. Just as the recent production of Waiting for Godot closed at the Theatre Royal, Haymarket, Endgame opened at the Duchess, while Godot is about to return, re-cast, due to audience demand. And the actors in these productions - Mark Rylance, Simon McBurney, Patrick Stewart, Miriam Margoyles, Ian McKellan and Tom Hickey, are stellar names.

Perhaps our collective thinking goes something like this - the world is going to the dogs, but it hasn't quite reached the inertia, despairing and hand-wringing of Beckett's theatrical vision. The relief! There's redemption in all this bleakness. Or, as Nell (Miriam Margoyles) would have it in Endgame, 'nothing is funnier than unhappiness', the play's most important line, according to Beckett.

Talking of words, Hamm says, 'I feel a little queer', changed by actor, Patrick Magee to, 'I feel a little strange', with Beckett's approval, but has been returned to its original form in this production. Being surrounded by a joshing gang of sixth form students, I was surprised by their failure to snigger at this. In fact, I can't remember a moment in public in the last twenty years when the word 'queer' didn't cause laughter.

Endgame is an exercises in entropy and hopelessness, and the real world is heading nowhere good fast, but at least we seem less bent on ridiculing gays on our way to oblivion.

Friday, 20 November 2009

Music Matters - Kreutzer Sonata, Gate Theatre, Notting Hill

The Kreutzer Sonata - adaptated by Nancy Harris from Tolstoy's novella - has a man, Posdneyshev (Hilton McRae), talking to us on a train about his relationship with his wife. He is a complex figure - part Ancient Mariner to the audience's wedding guest, who, we learn, was tossed on a sea of jealous fantasies about his beautiful wife's suspected, but unconfirmed, affair with a dashing violinist.

Posdneyshev is both a radical and a misogynist, who attempts to lure us with his man-to-man frankness on the condition of women (this being late 19th century Russia, he's no proto-feminist). A man in the audience laughed during last night's performance at the description of the wife as smelling like a peach so overripe she had the stench of a whore. Which is proof positive how some people have ended up in the 21st Century without stopping in the 20th at all. Posdneyshev's jealousy is Othello-like in his blind belief in the truth of the affair. He can inspire himself to murder without even needing an Iago.

The apparent affair between the piano-playing wife and fiddler is presented behind a lighted scrim, where the wife and her 'lover' perform snippets of the great Beethoven violin sonata, dramatising Posdneyshev's monologue. They supply a suitable accompaniment, as the sonata's first movement is all crescendi and rasping double-stops, perfect for his descent into murderous rage. It's gut wrenching stuff and powerfully dramatic.

The scrim reminded me how the original Kreutzer Sonata, the concerto-like piece in A major for piano and violin from 1803 by Beethoven, has become as layered with meanings and associations as a sunken ship. Premiered by George Bridgetower, the mixed race, 'mulatto' violinist, Beethoven's original dedication to him was revoked in a fit of anger after Bridgetower insulted a woman not knowing she was the great composer's friend. Perhaps this subtext of rivalry between a composer and a musician inspired Tolstoy's story. The sonata's name comes from Rodolphe Kreutzer, a famous French violinist at the time, who was awarded the dedication instead, although he never performed the piece and thought it unplayable.

Another nail in the coffin of art's chances of ever outflanking fact.

Friday, 6 November 2009

Limen, world premier, Wayne McGregor, Royal Ballet

Is Wayne McGregor the dance-maker Michael Clark would have been if his career hadn't been stalled by drugs? I ask this because in McGregor's latest work, Limon, which had its world premier on Tuesday at the Opera House, the crack team of the Royal's first rank - Leanne Benjamin, Yuhui Choe (a new Miyako Yoshida?), Eric Underwood and Edward Watson - were given the thrusting hips, off balance precision and stop-start robotic movement which are pure Clark.

Yet, McGregor's aesthetic is to see his dancers as cells in some larger computer hard drive or as refined human machines given off-centre movements. His art is as much about collaborations with hi-tech scientists, composers and artists as it is about dance. And his choreography dismantles a classically trained dancer's urge to create pleasing physical lines with her body. Whereas for Clark it's about stretching ballet's refinement until it breaks - a butterfly in a vice. His work is often danced to the blasting rock of The Fall or Lou Reed. Either way, their effects are similar.

It's interesting to note that Clark's training was classical, while McGregor's was contemporary. Somehow they've found a similar dance language that straddles the middle ground. Without the lost years of Clark's troubled life, McGregor - who doesn't even drink coffee - is building a huge catalogue of work punctuated with ground-breaking collaborations. How much more could Clark have given the world without drugs? Though it's good to see him at the top of his game with his recent new work seen in Edinburgh and London.

Back to Limen - with Moritz Junge's neon bright costumes, Lucy Carter's impressive colour block lighting with artist Tatsuo Miyajima's video and set design, there's an overload of visual pleasure too. It's like Clark, minus the dark, troubled heart. A word to McGregor - with the lighted scrim at the start and the darkened lit curtain at the end - don't let your high-concept pyrotechnics push the dance to the wings. It's what we've really come to see.

Monday, 2 November 2009

Diamond Geezer, Jewels, Paris Opera Ballet, 1/11/09

During his bravura solo in the final 'Diamonds' section of Jewels (or, Joyaux, as we are in France), Karl Paquette executed pirouettes of such technical mastery, we cheered. As he span on his right leg in precise gyrations with his left leg at 90 degrees, he achieved the as before unseen feat (by this member of the audience anyway), of facing each corner of the stage by turn. It was if there was an imaginary audience in the wings and upstage who had to see this brilliance for themselves as his body whiplashed towards each position, a precise and unstoppable blond Dervish.

An accolade then to the excellence of Paris Opera Ballet’s roster of male talent that Paquette hasn’t yet earnt the top title of etoile (star). What possible entry requirement could a dancer such as he be lacking? Wings?

Balanchine’s Jewels fits the French national company like Cartier on Princess Grace. Moreover, their elegant sets and costumes are by Christian Lacroix. Which begs the question, why does our Royal Ballet have to put up with those lumpen original costumes in their production of Jewels which the Balanchine Trust insist upon them wearing like a priggish aunt?

Monday, 26 October 2009

Rhapsody Fantaisie, World Premier, Morphoses, Sadler's Wells Friday 23/10

When six couples come on stage at the start of Christopher Wheeldon's Rhapsody Fantasisie, it is an arresting an image as anything Wheeldon has choreographed before. The women were carried horizontally from the wings like human crosses over the stage. In vermilion jersey dresses and blunt-edged harem pants on the men, Mary Louise Geiger's cold lighting seemed to turn the dancer’s skin tones to a deathly pallor against the bright reds of their costumes (designed by Calvin Klein's Francisco Costa). If these were sentinels of the underworld, or ghosts perhaps, Wheeldon's characteristically individual choreography gave them the death-mocking vivacity of pulsing blood.

It is Wheeldon's arrangement of his dancers in intricate tableaux mixing refined with blunt and even perverse shapes that keeps us engaged. Similarly his smaller couplings are full of the unexpected. When Wendy Whelan and Andrew Crawford enter for their pas de deux, Whelan's head is cupped in Crawford's hand and is gently pushed like a ball, where it bounces back up and down, the figure is repeated back with Crawford’s head. This interplay, both odd and delightful, is mirrored by Rubinal Pronk’s entrance where is partner’s head seems to bounce on his puffed up chest a movement he mirrors on hers. These moments are full of play and seem to say that, no matter how serious or high art the enterprise, just below the surface is a delight in movement where bodies can bounce off one another like helium-filled balloons. Pronk, by the way, is a man to watch, a Dutch dancer of feral grace whose body is closer to liquid mercury than flesh and bone.

Fancisco Costa's costumes and artist Hugo Dalton’s projected sketches of dancer’s faces, bodies and hands are collaborations which Morphoses celebrates, harking back to the great Ballet Russes and Diaghilev’s explosive melding of avant garde musical and artistic talent. It’s impossible to imagine such combinations today causing the controversies of hundred years ago. In fact, there is something so slick and seductive about Wheeldon’s work and his creative partners, that he’s thus far producing a chic aesthetic that satisfies the super-refined tastes of the New York and London balletomanes. As a dance populariser, a role which he'd like to claim, we'll just have to wait. But as one of the aforementioned balletomanes, he needn't hurry.

Friday, 23 October 2009

Mother's milk. Mrs Klein, Almeida Theatre

When Melanie Klein (Clare Higgins) accuses her daughter, Melitta (Zoe Waites), of being a ‘bad clinician’, the audience gasped during last night’s opening of Nicolas Wright’s ‘Mrs Klein’ at the Almeida theatre. Perhaps their horror was imagining themselves chastised by the very woman whose theories on infant development form the bedrock of their own working practice? The Almeida is a stone's throw from the consulting rooms of Hampstead, after all. Indeed the audience, in this small, claustrophobic theatre space became a Greek chorus to the emotional dance of death played out on the stage. Loud coughing accompanied Klein’s violent attack on her daughter, as she threw wine in Melitta’s face and stuffed a torn letter in her mouth: a gross parody of maternal feeding. It seemed as if Melanie Klein was choking the rest of us too.

This is the power of Wright’s play in this stellar production directed by Thea Sharrock - an exploration of the complex dynamics between Klein, her daughter and Paula, a Jewish refugee German analyst seeking both work and to become Klein’s patient: a lost child in search of her mother. She also acts as audience, referee and protagonist in the primitive battles between mother and daughter whose persecutory routines become murderous against the backdrop of Hans’ recent death, Klein’s son.

Clare Higgins’ Klein, whose bad-breast antics would screw the resolve of any infant to shove shit in her face, is pitch perfect. Our ambivalence shifts uneasily between sympathy for this, a bereaved woman, and repulsion that Klein abused both her own children by forcing them into analysis with her (the name Melitta, ‘little Melanie’ flags up Klein’s narcissism like a storm warning). And yet, this very abuse of her role as mother allowed Klein to theorise early attachment giving us a model of human development that enriches psychodynamic and analytic practice today.

Our ability to manage these discords at once is the challenge Klein’s work sets out for us. Can we truly hold both good and bad in the same object? Can we accept Klein's theories while despising her methodology? Our strangulated gasps during the performance, followed by wild applause at the play’s end mysteriously symbolised Klein’s own theories of integration. And we left the theatre enriched.

Mrs Klein runs until December 5th at the Almeida theatre, N1

Monday, 12 October 2009

The Bigger Story

In the Telegraph Matt Lucas and Kevin McGee were once 'married'; while in the Mirror they were married without the inverted commas. In other newspapers and websites they were 'ex-partners' - which could have just meant they were no longer in business together.

When Boyzone's Stephen Gately died on Saturday after a history of depression, suicidal thoughts and possible addiction to anti-depressants, we are left wondering how his story may conclude after tomorrow's post mortem. An accidental overdose seems likely.

Gately was found by his, 'partner' (in the Telegraph) but who the Mail Online calls 'husband', for he and Andrew Cowles had a civil union in 2006. This may or may not mean they were 'married' according to where you read this story. Two things are certain, Gately's Catholic parents didn't attend his wedding/civil union or accept his sexuality.

There's surely a link between this slippery use of language and the mental health aspects of these two tragic stories. Research among young gays in the States suggests those rejected by their families are nine times more likely to attempt suicide than their straight peers. In the UK which has offered civil unions for gays, but not in the same language as straight marriage exposes the fault lines of our inability to accept full equivalence to gay relationships. Gays in civil unions do not have the same status and approval as men and women who marry. How odd does the phrase, 'heterosexuals who 'marry'' seem when we add those suspicious, wary, disapproving inverted commas?

Our newspapers' awkward inability to name exactly who is who and what is what shows us how far we still need to go before gays and straights enjoy the same privileges. And until we do, the statistically greater chance of addiction and even suicide will carry on blighting the lives of gay people.

Tuesday, 8 September 2009

Queuing for Heaven

To Prom is to wait in a bus queue knowing several world-class orchestras will come along in quick succession. Hop on the right one and your journey will be more thrilling than a trip along the Bayswater Road.
This summer I hitched rides with the Eastern-West Divan orchestra playing Fidelio; The Orchestra of the Age of the Enlightenment with a semi-staged Glyndbourne production of Purcell's The Fairy Queen; London Symphony Orchestra playing Debussy and Mozart and the Budapest Festival Orchestra performing Prokoviev and Bartok.
Each journey cost a mere £5 for which you may be standing but within a baton-length of the action. Proming has the intimacy of a sauna with music straight from of heaven.
The stand-out concert was the Eastern-West Divan orchestra formed by Daniel Barenboim and Edward Said who created a cynic-defying band of young Palestinian and Israeli musicians. For Barenboim (Said died several years ago) the orchestra stands against 'ignorance' rather than 'for peace'.
His from-the-heart speech on the history and meaning of the orchestra while noting the bravery that many players had shown in order to be in the orchestra at all - defying family and community resistance to their joining. The concert programme: Beethoven's sole opera, Fidelio. This was the last performance for the orchestra this year (resulting in awkward, tearful, hugs and farewells among the players on the Albert Hall's stage) and an apt billing - love conquers oppressive brutality. Indeed, art as the clarion blast of hope.

Sunday, 26 July 2009

My Big Gay Icon

The most interesting thing about the Gay Icons exhibition at the National Portrait Gallery isn't the absence of William Shakespeare (the 'icons' have to be in photographs, so Will didn't stand a chance), Oscar Wilde, Kylie Minogue or even Judy Garland, it's the diversity on offer. Even if Elton John's choice of Graham Taylor (manager of Watford FC) is the most perverse thing in the room (was Taylor gay? or maybe he soothed the pop star after his car-crash marriage to Renate Blauel?).
The images themslves are often banal - though Lily Savage's embittered fag-filled face on Blackpool pier is priceless - the choices odd and sometimes obscure, and yet, the pleasure of spending an hour and half in the company of men and women, gay and straight, black and white, who have stood against the tide of prejudice and hatred lifted my spirits.
For those, like the Observer's Barbara Ellen, who bemoan the lack of trash pop tarlets in the line-up as suitable inspiration for a youngster coming out from a provincial town I say, check out history. Metropolitan gay youngsters may have a dizzy few years on a diet of plastic pop - but losing it bars and clubs was never the road to liberation. It was won on the streets, against the odds and in people's faces. It's like suggesting the Suffragettes would have been more effective by attending the music hall rather than chaining themselves to railings. The word 'icon' has been cheapened, yet if its sense of a venerated image isn't to be lost then the likes of Nelson Mandela, Bessy Smith, Peter Tatchell and, even Lily Savage are the best torch bearers for tomorrow's gay youth.

By the bye, my 'gay icons' in no particular order are: John the Baptist (Christianity's matre d'), Leigh Bowery, Archbishop Desmond Tutu, the Buddha, puff pastry, things that are shiny and move (see also disco balls/Christmas), bubble wrap and Jean Genet.

Saturday, 25 July 2009

Carlos Acosta's flights of fancy

Does Carlos Acosta know when he's hamming it up? I ask the question after seeing his latest '...and guests' performance last night at the Coliseum. If he does,
he keeps it to himself, which is wise for when he and his three male chums make macho whoopy in the gloaming of Plisetsi's 1973 Canto Vital, a snigger or knowing wink would have had the audience in stitches. The conceit of four near-naked youths shooting arrows, clambering over one another, miming drumming and generally making frolicsome without eroticism looks daft. So daft, I had to look away.

Though the ladies in the audience seemed to love it. Which begs the question, is Acosta presenting a kind of high art Chippendales meat-fest? By the amount of male flesh on display including the raunchy unwrapping of Othello's loin cloth in the pas de deux of that name leaves me in little doubt.

And why not? Traditionally ballet's jewels - the glittering expose groins and buttocks of ballerina's have been the eye-arresting consolation for the reluctant husbands and partners of these women. At last the girls have something to ogle beyond the overstuff pouches of the male stars. In last night's series of ballets torsos were only covered in the final Spanish inflected piece, Majismo before finally being flung off again in the on-stage/backstage coda.

Tuesday, 5 May 2009

Tune! The Takacs Quartet, Sunday 3rd May 2009 , Brighton Festival

To play a Haydn string quartet followed by one by Bartok just five minutes later, requires the kind of technique over which many string quartets will stumble, but the fall might be a valiant one all the same.  The fact that the Takacs played the Bartok C major no 4 - a quartet that requires a tonal understanding at odds (ie.chromaticism) with regular modalities and technical prowess (the central movement is played pizzicato through the full range of dynamics) with greater ease and facility than the classical Haydn (his late F Major op 77 from 1799) is credit to their phenomenal skill and the fact that the quartet has been going since 1975 (albeit with several team changes and one death). 

TheTakacs may now be an international band of musicians, yet the Hungarian folk/classical tradition is embodied by them. The Bartok here was as fresh as a first performance might be imagined in 1927. 

If this quartet were a team of TV chefs - they'd have made a passable light sponge followed by an exemplary and technically advanced souffle  full of exotic and delicious stuff.

Unfortunately, I had a train to catch and missed the second half performance of Schumann's String Quartet in A major Op. 41 No. 3. What a pity as the Takacs are part of the worthy forces pushing Schumann's chamber music back into the spotlight after his glory days in the late nineteenth century where his chamber music was seen as an early herald towards Brahms.

Haydn String Quartet in F major Op. 77 No. 2
Bartok String Quartet in C major, No. 4
Schumann , String Quartet in A major Op. 41 No. 3 (missed)

Monday, 4 May 2009

Dusty Bin, Les Ballets C de la B's Ashes, Brighton Corn Exchange 2nd Mary 09

Ghent-based dance collective, C de la B's new work Ashes, choreographed by Koen Augustijnen was billed as one of the opening highlights of Brighton's 09 festival (curated this year by sculptor Anish Kapoor). 

This was no highlight. A bunch survivors of some un-named catastrophe slowly moved from alienated separation to a kind of wave-like unity with a bit of trampolining on the side.  Surely this kind of dirge would be more suitable at the end of an arts festival? Perhaps one that had incurred some kind of disaster like the ferry connection to the continent being down. In which case we wouldn't have to see it at all. That would be a highlight.

Perversely, Augustijnen chose coluratura Handel arias to accompany his hokum post apocalypse choreography (sung by the singularly good counter tenor Steve Dugardin and soprano Irene Carpentie). Handel's ouevre for contemporary dance was ambushed by American Mark Morris thirty years ago, and anyone bold or foolish enough to make a move on this music will risk instant comparison with a master.

While Morris's moves are humane, witty and moving; Augustijnen's are lumpen, acrobatic and crude.  Noted the use of the roof-like trampoline in Ashes was a welcome distraction from the Bedlam below. Aside: why is repeatedly walking into immovable objects, usually walls, such a trope in so much contemporary dance? It's a cartoonish view of existential frustration. Pina Bausch can get away with this stuff, but then she had her dancers walk into walls in the 1970s. Les Ballets C de la B are still struggling to find the exit in 2009.

I assume Handel was chosen for the marked contrast between the soaring beauty of his baroque sonorites and the flailing movements of the alienated folk below - a point that's made in the first five minutes. It's a point that's made again and again for the next hour and a half. The real star of the show is a young timpanist who sashays between marimba and timpani (incuding gongs and bowed cymbals) with a grace facility patently lacking in the choreography below, which reminded me that the great Diamanda Galas was playing next door and we were stuck in here.

Friday, 10 April 2009

Revolutionary Road - Madame de Sade, Donmar West End 9/04/09

Madame De Sade is a play in which nothing happens - three times over. Three acts where the real action - the Marquis' orgiastic whipping frenzies and bloody splatter-fests - are only divulged with keening pathos by M. de Sade (Rosamund Pike) and with coquettish exuberance by the
Contesse de Saint-Foid (Frances Barber). The juicy stuff happens off-stage. Which is a pity.

The play's main protagonists invert the usual moral frame - where the Marquis's brutal sexual transgressions are held in holy esteem by his wife, sister-in-law and de Saint-Foid (a kind of 18th Century whipped up  Jilly Cooper), while his mother-in-law, Madame de Montreil (Judi Dench) doggedly tries to protect her daughters from the tsunami of sexual violence and scandal. Yet she alone becomes mired with the play's true moral repugnance by prolonging the Marquis's imprisonment through her own duplicity. She is the only one deserving our disgust apparently.

Of course, this unholy tale is spun against the backdrop of revolutionary France, where the ancien regime is crumbling under the weight of its corruption and vanity like a vertiginous powdered wig encrusted with acres of lice-riddled lard. The implication being that the Marquis's transgressions are so abhorrent to the social order as his gloves-off brutality holds an unshaking mirror to the order's own corruption. It's a neat trick and one Freud would call 'projection'.

But Madame de Sade isn't a good play. Not enough happens and there's far too much declamation, like a long-winded speech night at the Women's Institute. But, it is a very interesting cultural artifact. Written in 1965 just before the emergence of the gay liberation movement,  by the troubled and sexually repressed  gay Japanese artist, Yukio Mishima, the play bubbles with the thrill of transgression. A society which 'projects' its anxiety, horror, disgust and violence into the body of a polymorphously perverse libertine writer, De Sade must have felt uncannily familiar for Mishima, who committed ritual suicide in 1970.

Madame de Sade is a part of a glorious, glittering, and now, mostly defunct, pantheon of gay literature where the prostitute, outlaw, thief and murderer are transformed into figures of reverence. I'm especially thinking of the work of Jean Genet, Joe Orton and John Rechy.  Their idea of celebrating the outsider -wearing the hurled abuse of straight society as a crown of glory was an important, and necessary step to sexual emancipation. It may seem tired and hackneyed now, but it really was revolutionary then.

Thursday, 26 March 2009

Pond life - American Ballet Theater, opening night Swan Lake 25/03/09

How does Swan Lake keep us coming back for more? It's a cheese-fest. Von Rothbart is a malicious owlish no-mark from the 'he's-behind-you!' school of scary. Prince Siegfried is a dreamy mummy's boy unable to fire his cross bow at the pretty swan lady, the wuss, and the courtly dances have the hackneyed feel of a 'culture night' on a school trip to Budapest. Even Tchaikovsky's magical score, which can soar with heart-stopping transcendent melody, also slips at times into oom-pa-pa dirge. Those pesky court dances again.

In last night's opening of American Ballet Theater's version of the old warhorse, matters were further hampered by Zack Brown's costume designs which had the gawdy feel of a Disney Paris's Main Street party. Electric blue, bright purple and scarlet fail in fussy bustled dresses to suggest anything other than a five-year-old's colouring book. Yet Brown's sets, for a touring piece,  had the weight and heft of a more permanent production, suggesting grandeur through scale. Though the attempted transcendence of Odette and Siegried's reunion in death, as the couple were magically reunited in the heart of a rising sun, was let down by a creased backdrop that could have done with a jolly good iron.

And yet, and yet... the moment Siegried (David Hallberg) was padding through the forest to the lake's edge -  as scary with this cross bow as a toddler with a stick -  Odette (Michele Wiles) appears in full flight swan mode among the craggy trees and dry ice - I was holding my breath. The cheese had turned to liquid gold in a way that special alchemical way only classical ballet seems to manage. Wiles's limpid arms, graceful in their wing-like action as a pair of sinuous snakes jutting from her shoulders; her poised legato balances, for in that magical realm she inhabits all the clocks have somehow stopped; her vulnerability and thwarted strength were conjured with limpid precision. We'd left Disney far behind and had awoken, where exactly? It felt like heaven.

American Ballet Theater's Swan Lake turns up the volume on all the signifiers of the chocolate box, yet somehow knows that you can't break this galumphing warhorse no matter how gawdy your painted sunsets. There is a confidence and thrust in their dancing that makes some European classical companies look plodding. From Von Rothbart's (Marcelo Gomes) audacious seduction of international princesses, like a playboy on Viagra, to the military precision of the corps de ballet's swan drills, we were in the hands of a superb company who knows to its very toes that even the stinkiest cheese can taste sublime.

Thursday, 26 February 2009

Signifying Nothing - premier of Maliphant's Eonnagata, 26 Feb 09

As Sylvie Guillem swept onto the stage of Sadler's Wells last night enclouded in a billowing crimson opera gown designed by Alexander Mcqueen, expectations were as high as any I've felt in the theatre. Yet here was one of ballet's great stars, a woman whose body of sprung steel enables a technique of dizzying virtuosity doing the one thing she should never do in front of an audience, she opened her mouth and... spoke. Guillem's halting English and rococco words concerning an obscure French hermaphrodite, Chevalier d'Eon, punctured our expectations as swiftly as a harpoon through a Zepellin. We never recovered from the blow.

This interminable performance of stilted set pieces, stop-start ideas and willful obscurantism gave off the stale air of an enclosed rehearsal studio where ideas were smothered at birth like unloved babes. What on earth were they all thinking? The 'dream team' of Lepage, Maliphant and Guillem became less than the sum of their parts as if their collective talents pooled became de-oxygenated sludge. Yes, the sight of Guillem using the heel of sword to write a table-top letter was pleasingly eye-catching in a cartoonish way and lighting director, Michael Hulls can be relied upon to create mesmerising lighting effects in which, in this work the performers ambled through rather than danced. And Lepage's simple 'tables as prop' concept was ingenious, as these everyday objects became doors, hiding spaces, walls, a stage, mirror or boat by their easy inversions and stackings.

But McQueen's costumes were the only real stars on last night's stage. The tricky balancing between historical reference and allowing dancers to move easily has tripped up many a ballet costumerier with far more experience than this catwalk king. Yet his crinolines, kimonos, tulled capes and skirted gilets floated and scooped the air with a pleasing lightness sadly brought swiftly back to earth by the stultifying ponderousness in the rest of the production.