Tuesday, 13 December 2016

Scottish Ballet: Hansel & Gretel

Scottish Ballet: Hansel & Gretel

Review by Stephanie Green | 13 Dec 2016
Published by The Skinny magazine.

Magic, humour, a frisson of scariness, a celebration of food and a happy ending: Hansel & Gretel, choreographed by Christopher Hampson, is perfect for a Christmas family outing

This revival of Hampson’s 2013 production, using music from Engelbert Humperdinck’s opera plus other pieces, grew from outreach sessions exploring what really matters to children: loving parents, and food. There’s no wicked step-mother, the witch is not too terrifying, and, charmingly, local children appear on stage.
On stage, a fridge – empty except for beer – and a TV dominate, alongside an ironic ‘Home Sweet Home’ sign. The boozy father (Evan Loudon)’s staggering dance with his cronies, and clowning about with cigarette-smoking mother (Marge Hendrick), are humourously done. Later on, in the children’s dream, she is an Audrey Hepburn and he's in black-tie; still smoking and drinking, albeit more classily. The dance of the rebellious Hansel (Andrew Peasgood) and his bossy elder sister, Gretel (Bethany Kingsley-Garner) is convincingly childlike, hungry but playful. Unlike in the Grimm original, their sortie is an adventure.

And here the scary magic begins: Araminta Wraith's Witch, whom we first see as a teacher, is glimpsed as a glamour puss surrounded by rockers. Transformed into a moon fairy, her cloak streaming, she is held aloft by her now-feathery henchmen, hints that her beauty is drawn from her evil suggested by jagged hand-shapes.
Act One in the forest drags a little, despite an atmospheric set. It’s saved by the ravens, their leaps a highlight, as well as a banquet dream sequence with plenty of colourfully-costumed waiters, waitresses, chefs, and cute strawberry tarts. The Sandman (Christopher Harrison), reminiscent of Johnny Depp, is fatally alluring and in Act Two, Dewdrop tutu-clad ballerinas perform a classical routine to please balletomanes.
The pièce de resistance comes, of course, when the fairy takes off her wig, revealing a scabby hunchback witch, her hobbling both scary and humourous. A shame then that there’s a dramatic faux pas: the shocking beheading of the teddy followed by an anodyne scene of floppy toys which cancels out the impact. But hooray, it’s the teddy-hugging Hansel who pushes the witch into the oven.

Hansel & Gretel by Scottish Ballet 
Festival Theatre, Edinburgh, Sat 10 - Sat 31 Dec, various times, £14.50-£43.50 (plus concs); £11 stand-by tickets for Under 26s. For details of audio-described performances, Wee Hansel & Gretel, pre-show talks, and family insights, click here. Also touring to Glasgow, Aberdeen, Inverness in January 2017.

Monday, 5 December 2016

Alice's Adventures in Wonderland

Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland

Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland


Stephanie Green | 05 Dec 2016
Published in The Skinny.

A treat. What better way to celebrate the festive season than this rambunctious, zany version of Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland written and directed by Anthony Neilson plus songs by Nick Powell, puppets and spell-binding special effects. With all the topsy-turvy logic, the vivid colours of a dream, it gets curiouser and curiouser.
Birdsong, fairground lights and music introduce a golden Edwardian summer and picnickers as a boat comes gliding by and we’re in Alice’s world. There’s all the well-known riddles, word play, puns, philosophical and logical conundrums adults remember but made hugely enjoyable for children too: plenty of slapstick, spiralling into sheer silliness – just what the seven year olds in the audience adore. Particularly hilarious are the distinctive walks of animal characters, notably the White Rabbit’s shimmy.
Staying close to Carroll’s original, there are some inspired changes: The Rev Dodgson (Carroll’s real name), not Alice’s sister, sends her to sleep and the trial, not about stolen tarts, but a Mock Turtle soup recipe. A large sun, also a screen, shows great animations: Alice’s descent down the rabbit hole, and the Cheshire Cat’s floating grin. Alice’s changing size is wonderfully done (but no spoilers here).
The costumes are stunning, in particular the Gryphon’s layered feathers and the striped, furry caterpillar. Enormous hats are a feature, the Duchess’s very like Tenniel – but also tricorne hats with googly, shiny eyes attached for the frog and fish footmen. 
The most well-loved characters are here: the engaging Mad Hatter (Tam Dean Burn) beside himself with his unanswerable riddle, and the March Hare’s toothiness, the Duchess (Alan Francis) a Pantomime Dame, and Duchess’s Cook performed with wicked glee by Gabriel Quigley. Watch out for the flying plates. The caterpillar (Zoë Hunter) whose infuriatingly changeable opinions are delivered with superb timing. The Gryphon, or Gryff, a Welshman of course, played by David Carlyle, shouts out Tourette’s style. Isobel McArthur’s sobbing Mock Turtle is glorious and Alice, the debut stage performance for Jess Peet, is self-assured, well able to stand up to the nonsense around her. Great ensemble acting gets hysterical, higher and higher as the performance goes on. A terrific show.
Alice's Adventures in Wonderland, Edinburgh Lyceum, until 31 Dec

Published in the Skinny Magazine online.

Saturday, 26 November 2016

Rambert - Ghost Dances

Rambert – Ghost Dances, Frames and Tomorrow

Feature by Stephanie Green | 26 Nov 2016

Published in The Skinny Magazine

The iconic Ghost Dances, [★★★★★] visceral, sinister and melancholic, with its meld of skeletal Ghosts and folk dancing Dead, still in its 36th year, holds its power. Inspired by the military takeover of Chile, this is a non-polemical, imagistic piece, sadly still with universal relevance. In Rambert’s 90th year, what better than to revive one of their most popular pieces, choreographed by their former Artistic Director, Christopher Bruce?  
The sound of the wind, and the arid Andean backdrop give this an elemental atmosphere. The three skeletal Ghosts wear terrifying skull-masks influenced by the Mexican holiday, The Day of the Dead. Their movements are reptilian, lithe with sudden stops, eyes probing the audience in a chilling way. We are implicated in the universal fact of death. The Ghosts jump in off-balance barrel turns, or pose with arms swinging to suggest their provisional nature in contrast to the zombie-like approach of the Dead, dressed in colourful, tatty clothes. 
A live band performs the melancholic Latin American music with its distinctive breathy flute, inspired by the Chilean folk group Inti-Illimani.  A curiously defiant gaiety is mirrored in the folkloric dance steps as the Dead relive the past in striking duets: a girl in red, and a man with tie pulled playfully by his partner. The Ghosts weave amongst them then suddenly claim them – a particularly striking image is women raised aloft as if hanged. Death is brutal, unexpected. A brilliant, must-see production.
 Frames [★★★☆☆] choreographed by Alexander Whitley is interesting, but one waited with bated breath for the steel rods to come tumbling down. There is a startling image when the ensemble creates unfolding shapes with the rods like wings but overall, despite impressive dancers, there was no sense of relationship between dance moves and rods.  
As for Tomorrow [★★☆☆☆], this piece does Lucy Guerin’s career no favours. A split stage shows dancers in white rags twitching with spasmodic gestures symbolizing the psychic turmoil in ‘Macbeth’, the charismatic Miguel Altunaga drawing one’s eye. But on the other side, dancers in black suits mime like actors in an embarrassing am-dram production. The plot is run backwards. Why? Not a clever piece of deconstructivist post-modernism, just banal. 


Tuesday, 23 August 2016

MC 14/22 (Ceci est mon corps) and Crystal Pite's Emergence

Scottish Ballet: MC 14/22 / Emergence


Review by Stephanie Green

A well-matched double-bill, both about crowd mentality, but contrasting in mood, one dark, one bright: the first exploring masculinity, the other the ‘swarm intelligence’ of bees.

Angelin Preljoçaj’s work is known for its darkness and MC 14/22 (Ceci est mon corps) (‘This is my body’) [★★★] is no exception. The title is a reference to the Last Supper but this piece concentrates more on the male body: an ambivalent paean to masculinity. Glistening torsos are well-lit, the rest of their bodies disappearing in shadow, the males grapple, or slap each other’s bodies on steel tables reminiscent of the morgue. No heroes, they turn on each other, just like the Apostles. There is little individuality as they move in delayed synchronicity, bordering on monotony. If this is dance pushing the boundaries, of the dancers’ exhaustion and the audience’s tolerance, this is a close run thing.
There are only brief references to the Bible: a tender moment of foot becomes body washing and striking tableaux reminiscent of Da Vinci’s Last Supper. Christ’s humiliation is suggested: a man sings a haunting hymn whilst tormented, another attempting to dance whilst his limbs are taped, but these incidents verge on silliness. A splendid scene where dancers dive from a height to be caught would have been a splendid ending, but unfortunately the piece has no climax – it just stops.
Emergence [★★★★★] choreographed by Crystal Pite is a triumph. Abstract dance is balanced with insectoid hints: elbows raised like wings, jerks of the head. The ‘swam intelligence’ of bees is brilliantly matched to the regimentation of a ballet company. Set and lighting were dramatic: black streaks suggesting a ‘nest’ and the lit tunnel from which the dancers can emerge or dance inside in shadow-play. The highlights are a brilliant sequence when the ballerinas advance en pointe to be pushed back by the males and the entire company massed at the end, counting (humming?).

Published in The Skinny Magazine online.

Tuesday, 16 August 2016

Natalia Osipova & Guests

Natalia Osipova

  Photo by Bill Cooper

Natalia Osipova & Guests @ Festival Theatre


Stephanie Green | 16 Aug 2016

An exciting triple bill of dramatic contrasts shows off ballet star Natalia Osipova to stunning effect as her classical training skills meld with contemporary dance

Run Mary Run, choreographed by Arthur Pita is deliciously melodramatic. A tale of doomed teenage love, set in the 60s to the broken-hearted pop ballads of The Shangri-las, there’s a hint of Amy Winehouse’s tragic fate here.
Hands rise from black gravel, as the lovers rise from their grave to relive the fatal attraction between Osipova's sweet, naïve lead, wearing an auburn beehive and teeth-gritting acid greens and oranges, and her no-good man, performed by Sergei Polunin as a James Dean/Belmondo/Marlon Brando type, with louche walk, leather jacket and jeans. This is a series of vivid vignettes, more drama than dance: Polunin's solo sees him kicking the gravel into a swirl of dust. There's a moment of sugary sentimentality as Ospiova is spun on a swing by Polunin, whose clever juggling trick with glass and fag offers relief before the inevitable tragedy to come.
Choreographed by Moroccan/Belgian Sidi Larbi Cherkaoui, Qutb (which means ‘axis’ or ‘pivot’ in Arabic) is breath-taking. An awe-inspiring vast orange-red sun, occasionally eclipsed, dominates the back screen, and later appears on the ground. Three dancers rotate around it, aligning with each other and coming together or separating in an abstract dance which suggests planets orbiting the sun, reminiscent of whirling dervishes – all to the strains of nerve-tingling Sufi chanting. Osipova’s two male dancers, James O’Hara and Jason Kittelberger, get down and dirty, bringing an embodied physicality to proceedings.
Silent Echo is the most purely classical piece on the bill, a pas de deux choreographed by Russell Maliphant celebrating Osipova and Polunin’s strengths: superb lines, lifts and (a treat) the latter’s famed leap. The abstract classicism takes on a weird character set against Scanner’s electronic rock and some strobe lighting. Indeed at times, it is almost a duet with light, designed by Michael Hulls.

Natalia Osipova & GuestsFestival Theatre, 12-14 Aug, 7.30pm, £12-32 (fees apply)

Published in the Skinny Magazine online.

Friday, 28 August 2015

Seven: Ballet am Rhein

Seven: Ballet am Rhein @ Edinburgh Playhouse, 20 Aug

Germany's Ballett am Rhein team up with the Royal Scottish National Orchestra to perform Martin Schläpfer’s response to Mahler’s Seventh Symphony

Review by Stephanie Green | 28 Aug 2015
Published in The Skinny Magazine.

Pointe ballet shoes, bare feet and boots sum up this contemporary ballet inspired by Mahler’s Seventh Symphony, superbly played by the Royal Scottish National Orchestra and conducted by Wen-Pin Chien. Interrupted fragments of folk music, martial, or lyrical passages are echoed by the choreography: a collage of disconnected vignettes, Balanchine-inspired neoclassicism or tanztheater, in a  nocturnal dream world we cannot quite grasp.
Love duets become casually dismissive. Ugly contortions and drumming boots express abusive relationships: a male drags a female on stage with her head under his arm; others are dragged by the hair or lifted into the air with legs akimbo revealing too much crotch, albeit clothed in functional gym knickers. The males suffer too but there is something unpleasantly misogynistic in this piece, though occasionally the females fight back, usually en pointe and with hair in a bun.
Just as Mahler inserts cow horns, Schläpfer’s depressing view of humanity is undercut with silliness – dancers imitating a train or the girl underneath a tiny table (why?) but despite these moments, and extraordinary athletic dancers performing difficult choreography, its fragmentary nature is unsatisfactory and does not do justice to Mahler’s subtlety.
Only in the more cheerful Rondo is there a strong change of mood, when neoclassical dance is underpinned by the whole company in boots and long coats rushing round chairs in a circle, reminiscent of a children’s game where someone will be ‘out’. A reminder of the Holocaust, or of any outsiders in society. Finally, rather late, this stunning scene gives the whole piece depth.

Seven: Ballett am Rhein, Edinburgh Playhouse, run ended

Thursday, 20 August 2015

The Encounter - Simon McBurney of Complicite

The Encounter @ EICC, 16 Aug

An astounding, immersive show, The Encounter is performed and directed by Simon McBurney of Complicite

Review by Stephanie Green | 20 Aug 2015
Published in The Skinny.

The audience is equipped with head phones, where sound is relayed from a totem-like binaural ‘head’, so that we too are dropped into the Amazonian rainforest of Brazil. Based on Petru Popescu’s Amazon Beaming about Loren McIntyre, a National Geographic photographer captured by the Mayoruna (Cat people) and the recordings of McBurney’s own trip, we too experience a destabilizing encounter.
What is real? What is the nature of time? McBurney plays with our perception of reality with real-time performance and recordings jumping back and forth in time. He is the only person on stage but he performs many characters who inhabit our imagination while a mosquito whines at our ear, or a jaguar coughs. Sound effects are created on stage – pouring a plastic bottle to create the river, or screwed-up video tape for walking through jungle undergrowth. The voices of McIntyre and the Amazonians are intercut with McBurney’s own young son back home asking unanswerable questions, as children do, and those of scientists, philosophers and activists on how for the índios, contact with ‘whites’ often means death.
We share McIntyre's experiences; how he loses his trainers, his watch, his camera... everything that makes a 20th century person; how he enters a new sense of consciousness and learns to speak the ‘old language’, communicating through silence with the head-man; how he undergoes terrifying drug-induced hallucinations to reach another reality, the pulsing rhythm of time, and we too emerge shaken.

The EncounterEICC, 'til 23 Aug, 7:30pm (2:30pm), £32