Ballet

A Sleeping Beauty Tale

Last night we went to see The Northern Ballet's 'A Sleeping Beauty Tale', with music by Tchaikovsky. Obviously it was based upon the Sleeping Beauty fairytale. This is Tchaikovsky's ballet re-imagined as a story of the people of the red and blue planets. There are spacecraft (I kid you not) and at one point, laser guns.

I recognised several of the dancers from The Three Musketeers, but it didn't really have the same energy as that excellent production. The thing seemed to plod a little. There was an opening introductory speech, followed by several minutes of curtain down whilst they did things to scenery.

The main set seemed to be in a tunnel, the flats were cut circularly. The concentric rings tended to make me think 'Tha.. tha.. that... that's all, folks!', which I don't think was the intended effect.

The entrance of the main dancer was good, she was revealed to be inside a golden ball. The cover was removed to reveal a plastic sphere with her inside. I'm amazed she didn't cramp, it was a tiny ball! Her 'first steps' were well done too, quite comic, but she was soon pirouetting and leaping with everyone else.

The 'revamp' doesn't really work for me. Tchaikovsky? Spaceships? I'm not saying this as someone who's precious about the ballet, I'm not, I just didn't think it worked. There was one guy (from the 'red planet' who reminded me of a Babylon 5 Centauri.

Essentially, the ballet followed the same structure as the classic, but instead of a spinning wheel, the princess is stabbed by a red and put into a hibernation. In the meantime the planet is ransacked by reds. This continues until Aurora is roused.

The third act dragged on somewhat, it essentially consisted of the reds slaughtering the blues, a couple of blues looking for the beauty, the red-leader (make up your own Star Wars jokes) chasing them. There was a bit of dancing around and red-leader didn't make it (he didn't die by impacting the surface). The beauty (Aurora) and a blue got it together.

As is often the case with ballet, the curtain call went on for way too long.

After The Three Musketeers, there was a high bar to clear, and for me, this fell short.

The Three Musketeers

Last night we saw David Nixon's production of 'Three Musketeers' at Woking. It was produced by the Northern Ballet Company on tour.

It was simply stunning. Given that it's a touring company we were expecting the sets to be lacklustre, but they were top notch too.

The dancing was wonderful, and the story had a bit of meat to it - difficult with only dance to tell the tale.

There were several visual jokes which worked a treat, smuggling the queen out from under the nose of Cardinal Richelieu's men was very good. The cross-dressing King of France was quite amusing (providing a motivation for the Queen to lose interest in him). The final scene was incredibly busy, boxes flying everywhere (the wooden kind, not the protective kind --- though the protectives might conceivably be wooden, I'll admit).

I knew what was going to happen with the necklace, and even then I didn't see it happen, it was very cleverly choreographed.

There was a lovely scene with Dartagnan tied to the queen's maid, two people dancing whilst roped together was a great thing to see....

The swordplay was also done well, real swashbuckling stuff. The great thing is that, unlike for the Bolshoi, we were very close to the stage - provincial theatres do that for you. This put us right up close to the action, at a lower price than the 'Auditorium' seats in Covent Garden, and with production values that were on a par.

From Woking, the Three Musketeers goes to Nottingham, Milton Keynes, Edinburgh, Sheffield, Norwich, Manchester and Belfast. (Tour Dates - will update with time). There are other productions being performed at different places (Sleeping Beauty and Christmas Carol). There is a date in Sadlers Wells (London) next summer whose production is to be confirmed.

I would advise people to give this one a try. Quotes from critics can be seen here.

Bolshoi

Today was a first, we went into Covent Garden to the Royal Opera House in order to see the ballet. Now, this wasn't something that I got dragged to, it was my idea. I made a decision to try new things, even if I was a bit unsure. After all, how do we know if we like it otherwise? Some time back I was out in the Surrey countryside on a work related event, and whilst I waited I was browsing a newspaper. I saw the Bolshoi Ballet was in town, the 50th anniversary of their first visit. I thought 'Why not try the ballet'.

Then I thought 'If you're going to try the ballet, you may as well see the best'. I suggested this to Monica, and she said she'd like to go.

We had a choice of 'The Pharaoh's Daughter', 'Swan Lake', 'Cinderella', 'Go for Broke / Pique Dame / Symphony in C' or 'Don Quixote'.

For various reasons, such as Monica having seen 'Swan Lake', and plain old scheduling, it came to a choice between 'The Pharaoh's Daughter' and 'Don Quixote'. I had a slight preference for 'Don Quixote', but Monica was keen on 'The Pharaoh's Daughter', so that was the choice.

Performances are pretty pricey, but it's the Bolshoi for goodness sake! It should be world class! Our seats were up high, up in the ampitheatre, seats K70 and 71. This helped to keep the price down. On the Royal Opera House website, there is a good seating plan which allows the user to see photos from selected seats, one of those seats is adjacent to where we sat.

The principle ballerina was Svetlana Lunkina. Contrary to what it says in the programme, the conductor was Igor Dronov

The Royal Opera House itself is splendid, it has a sumptuous feel to it, and the views from the ampitheatre are good. We had a little look around after, and it was only in the slips approaching the stage that the performance would have really suffered.

The number of people involved in the performance was incredible, the sheer number of dancers on stage, the orchestra, plus the people behind the scenes. The sets were very well done, and exquisite in detail. At one point they had a horse on stage. A real one.

The plot is necessarily pretty simple, but a few times I found myself wondering what was going on. At one point a monkey appeared for no apparent reason (not a real one), and the sidekick would run across stage for reasons I couldn't fathom, but for the most part it was easy to follow. A couple of times there were a few people in the corps de ballet who didn't quite seem to be in the right place at the right time. Nothing serious, but surprising for the Bolshoi.

Nevertheless, I really enjoyed it, which was a pleasant surprise (as I'd booked tickets with the 'try it once' viewpoint). Those are some really stretchy women! It takes a special kind of athleticism to be able to stand on the points of ones toes, with the other leg sticking out horizontally, wrapping round so the foot is behind the back, and spinning at the same time.

In fact, I think I'd like to go again. Gosh. Who'd have thought?

I'm now considering the Opera. We bought tickets for Carmen in December, but I've a yen to really leaping into the deep end with Der Ring des Nibelungen in 2007 - we'd need to think about booking before having seen Carmen.

Rather annoyingly, the three Wagnerian cycles all have operas at 4pm or 5pm on a weekday, this simply isn't practical for me - the one possibility is cycle 2, this has only one difficulty, Die Walküre is at 5pm on the 19th October 2007, a friday before a break at work.

I know now that I'll be free for the 4pm performance the following week. It's possible that I may be able to get permission to leave on Friday 19th in the early afternoon from the head honcho, I'd need to be sure I had that permission before I booked.

It's rather inconsiderate of the Royal Opera House not to organise at least one cycle to be exclusively evening performances - I couldn't even mix and match them without seeing them out of order!