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S & H Dance Special – live and on DVD (PGW & MB)
Coverage of the Rambert Dance Company begins a short overview of ‘the art of dance’.
Rambert Dance Company
75th Anniversary Autumn Programme 1, Sadler's Wells, London, November 2001 (PGW)


Approached from a musical standpoint, Rambert impresses by its eclectic breadth of sources tapped, without pigeonholing any preferences. In its current 75th anniversary celebrations, each programme features the live music making of its Associate Orchestra London Musici, directed by Paul Hoskins, but there is always taped music too, reproduced on state of the art equipment, loud but distortion-free. For Hurricane a single dancer, Simon Cooper, represented in commedia dell'Arte guise the complexities of Bob Dylan's storytelling song of that name, with which everyone there seemed familiar, about a black boxer framed for triple murder,. From the programme note we gathered that he was cleared of all charges but only after twenty years; surtitles would have helped some of us oldbeards!

It is always inspiriting to emerge from the 'new music ghetto' and experience challenging music, in a variety of genres, in the lively company of the young audiences who fill Sadler's Wells for dance events and don't want to hear only what they know they like, which has to be taken into account by classical music promoters. They know the dancers, support them with whistling and screaming, but surely take in the idioms of Stravinsky and Scelsi at the same time as they renew acquaintance with Bob Dylan and his confreres.

This is one strand in musical life that holds out great hope for the future - surely there will not be such a time lag for acceptance of early C. 21 music as there was for that of the first quarter of the C. 20?

Tracks by 'Aphex Twin' (presumably a composing pair?), the final one from Ambient Works Vol II, served to accompany the only premiere of the evening, Twin Suite 2, a goodly up-to-date noise, but in truth rather monotonous. London Musici came into its own for The Celebrated Soubrette, playing Michael Daugherty's Le Tombeau de Liberace of 1996, which provided energetic, efficiently orchestrated accompaniments for 'a tawdry journey through the glitz and grime of Las Vagas', but was not music I would seek out to hear again.

Far more memorable a musical experience was Stuart Dempster's Underground Overlays, used by the veteran Merce Cunningham for his compelling Ground Level Overlays, a computerised, abstract creation - yes, dance too can now be generated by computer programmes, just as music has been for Xenakis and Lindberg. Cunningham choreographed Ground Level Overlays by processing 'movement phrases' into LifeForms, the dance computer he utilises, continuing 'my interest in dancers as people dealing with movement complexities'. The dancing was at ground level, but Dempster's music had been recorded by ten trombonists near Seattle, 14 feet down in an acoustically unique, huge underground cistern, 'with an incredible 45 second reverberation period, any sound reverberated with nearly perfect evenness of tone quality and dynamic range'. Cunningham's partner John Cage, to whose memory Ground Level Overlays is dedicated, had been deeply moved by a CD Deep Listening (1988), recorded in that old water tank, known locally as 'The Cistern Chapel'.

I found the Rambert dancing accomplished, indeed expert, and always watchable and interesting to see, but it is a foreign language and, all the music this time being new to me, I would not venture to trespass on the territory of the dance critics, who were all enthusiastic, especially about Rambert's acquisition of Merce Cunningham's work. Ground Level Overlays had been premiered in New York, 1995, 'one of the loveliest works in his company's repertoire - - Cunningham's gift of consolation: Rambert joyously does it justice' (Jann Parry in The Observer). In London, the multi-tracked taped score was supplemented by live trombonists of London Musici, the whole reverberating around Sadler's Wells to wondrous effect.

Peter Grahame Woolf



Dance on DVD


Marc Bridle reviews the Lyon National Opera’s production of Prokofiev’s Romeo & Juliet and Peter Grahame Woolf looks at DVDs of Carmen, Sleeping Beauty, Cinderella, Coppelia and The Nutcracker.

Romeo & Juliet (Prokofiev), Lyon National Opera Ballet & Lyon National Opera Orchestra Kent Nagano, conductor

Arthaus DVD 100 246, region code 2 & 5.

This is the third version of Prokofiev’s great ballet I have now seen on DVD – and immeasurably the best, even if it is sliced and cut to less than half its usual length. Warner have already issued the Nureyev production, classical and conservative in style and design, and suffering from the most lugubrious account of the music I have yet heard. It reminds one of wading through treacle. A horrendously cheap DVD release on Video Land Klassik (with just four chapters supporting more than two-and-a-half hours of music) purportedly dates from 1938 – yet is in such splendid colour (and sound) that this simply cannot be the case. It is, however, beautifully conducted, coming nearest to Nagano in setting almost ideal tempi for this work.

Watching this Arthaus release after either of those DVD performances is likely to prove both rewarding and shocking. Rewarding, because Nagano’s approach to the score is incendiary, with palpable electricity lighting up the inherent darkness of the production at every turn. Shocking, because this is the darkest imaginable vision of a great love story stripped naked and then weighed down by a post-war, almost apocalyptic, view of a Europe torn apart by hatred and ethnic cleansing. The Montagues and Capulets are more akin to the warring factions of Bernstein’s West Side Story than Shakespeare’s warring European nobility, and there is more than a suggestion of fascist thuggery operating very close to the surface of this gut-wrenching production.

Angelin Preljocaj agreed to create this production for Lyons Opera on the condition that he could use a considerably foreshortened score, a decision principally taken so the music would sit more comfortably with a ballet told as a political and emotional parable. However, in achieving this the scenes have been moved around in a bizarre fashion: in Scene 3, for example, No.35 (Romeo decides to avenge Mercutio’s death) appears before No.34 (Mercutio Dies). In the Third Act we have No 31 (incorrectly identified in the booklet as No 32) – Tybalt meets Mercutio – misplaced when what we really have is Juliet with the ghosts of both (in otherwords, No 44).

This complexity does not diminish the sheer audacity of the production values, however, evidently coloured by the backgrounds of both the designer and the choreographer. Those designs, by Enki Bilal, a former Yugoslavian comic book illustrator, are principally drawn in a bleak Berlinesque landscape of inescapable walls. They mimic in many ways the eclectic design that Fritz Lang brought to his 1920s film Metropolis, and there is also in this production an emphasis on the futuristic – particularly illustrated by the pseudo robotic nurses who hive around Juliet. With monochrome colouring, a pervasive illusion of darkness, and a threnody of extraneous sound (such as helicopter rotor blades) this is both everyone’s nightmare and someone’s depiction of a police state in action.

In choreographic terms this production is a millennium away from the staid artistry of Nureyev and Kasatkina/Vasilov. This is, of course, very classical ballet – and in all three productions it is difficult to separate the movements used in both Juliet’s Funeral and the Death of Juliet, so similarly are the dancers matched in movement between the different productions. However, when you look at how Preljocaj has choreographed the Dance of the Knights – for once aggressive, and not at all like the chessboard movements we always seem to see – you can feel the abstraction which this choreographer brings to modern dance. Entire bodies become balletic, even if the movements are predominantly minimalist. Rather than an all-embracing fluency of movement the division of labour is stark: Romeo and Juliet have a swallow-like freedom, whereas the guards and nurses have an automaton, almost mechanical presence.

Generally this is a superbly danced performance – Pascale Doye and Nicolas Dufloux tangible and emotive as the lovers. Nagano grips the score with a vice, and the playing is both lithe and exciting. Controversially, and given the passion of the playing, it is almost sacrilegious that Juliet’s death should occur after the music has finished. It is my only real point of contention in what is otherwise a superb production.

Marc Bridle


Carmen (Bizet/Schtschredrin)
Arthaus DVD 100 182
Sleeping Beauty (Tchaikovsky) National Philharmonic Orchestra/Richard Bonynge
Arthaus DVD 100 054
Cinderella (Prokofiev & Schwarz) Lyon National Opera Orchestra/Jacob Kreisberg
Arthaus DVD 100 234
Coppelia (Delibes) Lyon National Opera Orchestra/Kent Nagano.
Arthaus DVD 100 337
The Nutcracker (Tchaikovsky) Orchestre Collonne/Edmon Colomer with Yvette Horner (accordion)

All discs region coded 2 & 5.

I can warmly recommend to unprejudiced S&H readers several excellent Arthaus DVDs plus one from TDK, all distributed by Select Music. All of them are updated in different ways and have provided food for thought, alongside pure enjoyment and admiration for unfettered imaginations.  Whereas opera has moments of visual repose when music takes over, dance keeps the eyes continually engaged and makes for absorbing home viewing. 

The maverick Mats Ek's Carmen takes the Soviet composer Schredrin's popular suite made from Bizet's music, and weaves a dance work of astonishing emotional intensity, its searing feeling driving away questions of literal interpretation of the familiar tale or thought of the opera.  Mats Ek's version of Sleeping Beauty, with Tchaikovsky's score faithfully recorded by Richard Bonynge and the NPO, eschews prettiness and has a strange version of the story with male swans.  Of a different ilk is Maguy Marin's Cinderella, strictly based upon the original story, but seen through child eyes, with all the characters masked living dolls with real human feelings, reflecting how children identify with their toys. A wonderful DVD for the whole family to enjoy during the Christmas festivities. 

Maguy Marin's Coppelia, is utterly different. Her version takes the story, about the breakup of a real relationship because of infatuation with a mechanical doll - representing an unattainable and imaginary ideal woman as fed to us by the media - into our own time. 

The archetypal theme of the image taking over from reality (Golem, Frankenstein etc) is given in a modern, inner city setting, with some violence.  The first act of this Coppelia is set outside a drab block of flats, with concerted dances that remind one of the build up of tensions in West Side Story - abbreviated here by omission of Delibes' folk dances, which interrupt the story telling in the original ballet.  Afterwards, paradoxically, the imagination expands in Coppelius' small flat and the dance aspect improves in an indoor fantasy with a bevy of scarlet dolls - a memorable image of fantasy overwhelming reality; disturbing, very imaginative and brilliantly filmed. The Delibes score is played excellently by Kent Nagano with the Lyon National Opera Orchestra, and as well recorded.    

Maurice Bejart's The Nutcracker is, in its way, equally different from the perennial Christmas show seen revived year after year at South Bank. It is lavish, gorgeous to look at and innovative in its treatment, even though the dancing does not stray far from classical ballet, with the Pas de Deux is given in Petipa's original version. Bejart draws upon his own early life, interpolating spoken reminiscences in his ballet's live presentation at The Theatre Musical de Chatelet - Paris, especially in centring his new scenario upon an 8-yr old boy who adores his dead mother, is unable to regain her and becomes a dancer, incorporating also Mephisto from Goethe's Faust. A circus setting provides new opportunities for the second act divertissements, in which popular French music is introduced by the accordionist, who even towards the end descants with the orchestra in Tchaikovsky's music, charmingly done and sure not to cause offence. A bright and colourful show; with expert and personable young dancers and the famous score well played and recorded, this is another desirable DVD for the holiday season, and beyond.

Peter Grahame Woolf

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