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 Premiered by George Bridgetower, the mixed race, 'mulatto' violinist, Beethoven's original dedication to him was revoked in a fit of anger after Bridgetower insulted a woman not knowing she was the great composer's friend.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?