Sadler’s Wells, London
November 3, 2017
Opening Birmingham Royal Ballet’s mixed evening, Ruth Brill’s Arcadia takes a look at the satyr Pan. Unfortunately, what we see is something of an emasculated Narcissus, more feline than caprine. As excellent as Brandon Lawrence is, rather than a wild god of the mountains and shepherds, he has no option but to play him as a gauche boy, unable to communicate with his nymphs. Brill does gives him delicate rondes de jambe en l’air, though, and a body that turns thoughtfully inwards, never extending out of his own space.
The nymphs are indistinguishable foam each other and Selene the Moon may as well be one of them. The chorus seem not to serve any purpose other than to extend the work beyond its ability to communicate anything meaningful. As a whole, it’s plain dull.
Atena Ameri’s inexperience as a designer shows. The bland cut out is impossible to see from a large part of the auditorium but anyone not in the stalls needn’t worry as it in no way conjures up ancient Greece, let alone Arcadia. There is nothing remotely pastoral, wild or ancient about it. In fact, it seems to be wreathed in fog. Why are lighting designers so obsessed with shrouding everything to the extent that the audience, even in the stalls, cannot appreciate the detail of the costumes?
John Harle’s score isn’t much better. With its borrowing heavily from a 19th-century vision of Arabia, it’s more Fry’s Turkish Delight with a dash of the Arabian from Nutcracker than wild, pastoral ancient Greece.
Oh for something more akin to Nijinsky’s Faun.
One waits for ages, then two come along at once. Not buses but La Baiser de la fée. It’s tough on Corder that MacMillan’s version has been seen in London so recently.
Corder would seem a natural successor to MacMillan in terms of choreographic style, although he too is guilty of overloading his dancers with steps. And where MacMillan conjures up a lonely, rural setting – wild western Ireland perhaps – John Macfarlane’s designs are confusing.
The Fairy and her entourage are gorgeous, though. Spikier than Macmillan’s they are frost personified. Ice that cuts. Cold that kills. Once grown up, the Young Man again meets the Fairy in the wood. This time, all in black, she is seductive Odile and he is smitten.
This gives way to a confusingly opulent interior for the bride. The Young Man has certainly risen above his start in life as a foundling. It didn’t help that there were evident problems with the set. Shafts of light shot through the bottom and feet were visible behind. There were some loud bangs and crashes and doors were temperamental. The scene with the Bride’s friends is reminiscent of Romeo and Juliet and overly long without advancing the narrative or delineating character.
The Fairy disguises herself as the Bride but the Young Man seems unabashed when she is revealed to be her true self. His eventual descent into her world lacks the frisson of other worldliness.
Still, Corder’s Baiser was the most enjoyable work of the evening by far.
For many, David Bintley’s ‘Still Life’ at the Penguin Café is still a crowd pleaser. Not for me, and while it clearly depends on your point of view, I don’t see it as an acceptable vehicle for a message about endangered species and preservation either.
The way some of the animals are depicted is far from reality. However fun it looks, Bintley’s hysterical Kangaroo Rat in dungarees gives no sense of the actual kangaroo rat’s way of moving. Indeed, if it moved in the way choreographed, it would likely die of exhaustion before it had the chance to eat.
The dancers representing the Southern Cape Zebra are not grouped in the social groups in which zebra actually live. Instead, a posturing male, bizarrely waves the tails of two others in his hands. His protracted death is embarrassing. As he quivers upstage, the stripe be-skirted women seemingly ignoring his plight.
The Utah Longhorn Ram in a dress, ripped off like a classier version of Bucks Fizz to reveal a shorter design, is simply offensive and puts one in mind of the obese, wheezing pugs and French bull dogs forced to wear tutus and ridiculous jackets as they are carried around as fashion accessories by their owners.
Next year marks the thirtieth anniversary of ‘Still Life’. Times have moved on. The Beatrix Potter-ish approach is no longer acceptable.
All in all, a rather unexpectedly disappointing evening.