Dance Review: Outwitting the Devil / Heartbeat of Home

A rare foray into the world of dance saw me catch the highly atmospheric Outwitting the Devil from the Akram Khan Company and Heartbeat of Home at the Piccadilly Theatre

I’m not necessarily known for my dance reviews but that’s mostly because I do find it a little difficult to write about, trapped in a vicious circle of not considering myself to have enough relevant experience to write about it in a meaningful way, and thus never booking in to see it, thus never gaining that experience… Over the last weeks though, circumstance has conspired to get me to see the Akram Khan Company in Amsterdam and Heartbeat of Home much closer to home and so, I’m practically a dance critic now. Severrrrrn…

On the precipice of retirement, Khan has decided to focus his considerable talent (Binoche! Kylie!) on choreography, “dancing [his] ideas through the bodies of others” as he so eloquently puts it and the first fruit of this stage of his career is Outwitting the Devil. Inspired by a fragment from the 4,000 year old Epic of Gilgamesh, it is a powerfully evocative if thematically vague piece for six dancers and while I found it largely very impressive, I was grateful to have programme notes to give it some narrative structure. Continue reading “Dance Review: Outwitting the Devil / Heartbeat of Home”

June theatre round-up

I might have taken a break from reviewing in June, but I didn’t stop going to the theatre – I had too many things already booked in. Here’s some brief thoughts on what I saw.

Betrayal, Harold Pinter
Shit-Faced Shakespeare – Hamlet, Barbican
The Knight of the Burning Pestle, Cheek By Jowl at the Barbican
Somnium, Sadler’s Wells
Les Damnés, Comédie-Française at the Barbican
Vanya and Sonia and Masha and Spike, Theatre Royal Bath
Blithe Spirit, Theatre Royal Bath
The Hunt, Almeida
Present Laughter, Old Vic
Europe, Donmar Warehouse
The Deep Blue Sea, Minerva
Plenty, Chichester Festival Theatre
Pictures of Dorian Gray, Jermyn Street
The Light in the Piazza, Royal Festival Hall
Hair of the Dog, Tristan Bates Continue reading “June theatre round-up”

Review: Man-Cub, Etcetera

“Switch Grindr off before the night begins…”

For all the rainbow flags painted on cheeks at Pride and declarations of being an ally, I don’t straight people can ever really appreciate the extraordinary rush of feeling that comes from going to your first gay club. The excitement, the fear, the sexiness, the strangeness, the sense of community that feels right at your fingertips, the sense of potential isolation equally, precariously close – it can be a most eye-opening, exhilarating experience. It can also be more ambivalent than that.

And it is the complexity of this sensory overload that Alistair Wilkinson captures evocatively in his dance-led devised piece Man-Cub. Trailed as a queer adaptation of Rudyard Kipling’s The Jungle Book, it feels looser than that but Alex Britt’s first-time gay club-goer is our Mowgli and the club is his jungle. And if we don’t get a Baloo (no bears in this gay club!) or a Kaa (joke about being hung like a python redacted), what we do get it a sense of the tribal fervour of the dancefloor.  Continue reading “Review: Man-Cub, Etcetera”

Review: Trinity, The Asylum Peckham

Ovalhouse and BraveNewWorlds’ Trinity describes itself as a design-led performance and it does feel more art installation than conventional theatre. And like much of modern art, it benefits from explanation by its creators, captions explaining and connecting the artistic vision behind what might otherwise seem vague and untethered. 

So in their words, Trinity “explores the aesthetics of gender and female iconography in society’s visual culture, from pagan and religious artefacts to pop culture’s bedroom selfies”. |In mine, it exploits the visual representation of female roles to stunning effect but decreasing returns, as it offers little more that is tangible. Continue reading “Review: Trinity, The Asylum Peckham”

Pictures of Jekyll and Hyde, Old Vic

Truth be told, I don’t review much dance because I don’t feel qualified to comment on it. And because I don’t feel qualified to comment on it, I don’t see much dance…and so the vicious cycle continues. I was able to get a ticket to the last night of Drew McOnie’s re-imagining of Jekyll and Hyde though, it having been recommended to me by several people, but knowing that I wouldn’t be writing about it, I might have had a couple of sherbets pre-show. So aside from saying that I really enjoyed it, I won’t be commenting any more to say that Manuel Harlan took these lovely pics.

Continue reading “Pictures of Jekyll and Hyde, Old Vic”

Review: Wind in the Willows, Vaudeville

“Let my creatures rise again”

Adding to the diversity of festive offerings on the stage, The Wind in the Willows was the Royal Opera House’s first venture into the West End last December and now returns for a second year of adventuring through the riverbank, the Wild Wood and beyond. It might not be the instinctive choice for a Christmas show – a dance version of Kenneth Grahame’s classic children’s novel – but it has a gently persuasive charm that ought to appeal to all ages.
A wonderfully charismatic performance from Cris Penfold brings Toad to manic attention-seeking life – likewise Sonya Cullingford’s meek myopic Mole, Martin Harvey’s rakish rowing Ratty and Ira Mandela Siobhan’s bonny bright Badger – and through Will Tuckett’s expressive choreography and direction, their stories come to life. Solely through the medium of dance, all four offer a wonderful sense of character and camaraderie through their series of jocular japes and journeys.

They’re aided by a really rather nifty design from The Quay Brothers that feels like it might have fallen out of a pop-up storybook as rivers tumble from wardrobe doors, giant chairs are upended into prison cells, butterflies float through the air on gloves. With imaginative puppetry from the inspired Toby Olié and an evocative score that runs through the breadth of English folk music from Martin Ward, there is much that can captivate here.
A rather prosaic narration from Alan Titchmarsh, playing the role of Kenneth Grahame as storyteller, does sap the magic at times though, he never settles into a performative role and so always give the impression of just delivering his lines. It is left to the likes of Ewan Wardrop to lift the theatrical mood as the bawdy Gaoler’s Daughter (as well as Otter and Chief Weasel) and celebrate the playful spirit of this sometimes delightful production.
Running time: 1 hour 45 minutes (with interval)
Booking until 17th January

Review: Dad Dancing, Battersea Arts Centre

“Dave hasn’t danced since a disco in Nairobi in 1984”

Do you dread the moment your dad gets up on the dancefloor, or do you celebrate the time being spent together? Do you cringe at the moves he busts out, or give thanks that he’s able to do them? Do you despair at the lack of rhythm that seems to accompany fatherhood, or appreciate the specialness of the beat of his own drum? I think few of us could honestly say we’d answer the latter for any of the above but such questions, and more, lie at the heart of devised dance piece Dad Dancing which encourages us to reconsider.

Created and developed by three dance students looking to engage their fathers in their chosen craft beyond the standard attendance at the end-of-year showcases, this beautifully warm-hearted show has a most beguiling quality. Exploring not only their own relationships with their fathers, who appear alongside them here at the Battersea Arts Centre, they’re helped by a large supporting cast who bring their own father/child experiences to bear. Thus a whole spectrum of experience stands before us, asking what it means to be a son or daughter, to be a father, to be a dancer. Continue reading “Review: Dad Dancing, Battersea Arts Centre”

Review: Flow, The Print Room

“Go with the flow…”

Since setting up as a new venue in 2010, The Print Room has pulled together programmes covering a wide range of artistic disciplines. So whilst the following months sees live sculpture making and plays from Brian Friel and Amy Herzog, one can currently take in an exhibition of photography and an international dance premiere in Hubert Essakow’s Flow. A musing on the unique properties of water and the different relationships that we have with it in its varying states, it creates a dance experience that is immersive in more ways than one.

Waterproof bibs, not dissimilar to binbags with neck holes, are handed out as the audience enter the West London studio, seated around the edge of the intimate space with its raised performance area and a column of sheer fabric in the centre. And from here, the five dancers work their way through their way through water in all of its forms, from the frozen tranquillity of the ice-bound opening sequence through to the exhilarating energy of a powerful storm with rain falling from sprinklers and the dancers splashing so gleefully, you’ll be glad of your binbag! 

Essakow’s choreography ebbs and flows beautifully through the different sequences, pulling together different combinations of the company as movement ripples through them, across them, out of them. Thomasin Gülgeç‘s measured solo from within the ice has a beautiful grace which stands out and all five impress in the Vapour and Gas section, fading in and out of sight as mist fills the space yet forms a kinetic connection between them all. With Tom Dixon’s elegant design and Peter Gregson’s elegiac score blending piano and cello with electronics, much of Flow combines delicacy and intensity to evocative, compelling effect.

But the show over-reaches itself when it ventures away from choreography. Stories of the dancers’ own experiences with water at least have a personal edge but the action is also interspersed with projections of hard-hitting statistics and witty bon mots. These just feel forced into the flow of the evening, alternately straining for a gravity or levity that doesn’t always feel warranted, given how emotive so much of the dancing is, and simply ends up trying too hard.

And it just doesn’t need to. The pleasure that comes from the fevered turbulence of the tempest is genuinely thrilling, even as the dancers thrash and splash with passion and intensity, and is soon followed by the gorgeously slow fluidity of the calm after the storm, a wistful sequence that melts away into the ether for a hushed but moving finale.  

Running time: 60 minutes (without interval)
Booking until 23rd February


Originally written for The Public Reviews

Dance Review: Play Without Words, Sadler’s Wells

Truth be told, I am no real fan of dance shows. I do give it the occasional try hither and thither but it is an artform whose charms have largely bypassed me, but I do like to keep trying with things and so I took up the offer from a friend to take in Matthew Bourne’s Play Without Words at the Sadler’s Wells theatre. A 2002 commission for the National Theatre, it is receiving its first revival here as part of the New Adventures’ 25th anniversary celebrations, but though it is undoubtedly a stylish and slick piece of work, I found it to be rather soulless.

Inspired in 1960s British New Wave cinema, it borrows heavily from the 1963 Harold Pinter-scripted The Servant to tell of a well-to-do young man who hires a manservant to run his household but who ends up controlling his life. But what Bourne has done is to double- and sometimes triple-cast the characters so that the story is told with multiple perspectives and the varying possibilities of each scene are explored right in front of us. It’s a clever move and one which offers much opportunity but I couldn’t help but feel that by the end it was overused. Continue reading “Dance Review: Play Without Words, Sadler’s Wells”

Review: The Nutcracker, Birmingham Royal Ballet at the Birmingham Hippodrome

Just a quickie, as I don’t really do much dance alongside my theatre-going and so I often struggle to write up these shows cogently, especially when there are so many others who write so well about dance. But I do go occasionally, and quite often it is at Christmas-time as part of a family tradition which is still being observed by me and one, if not the other, of my sisters as we are treated to a Christmas shopping trip, dinner and a show by Aunty Jean. We’ve taken in all sorts over the years, including countless Returns to the Forbidden Planet, a ridiculous Wizard of Oz and a John Rutter concert last year, but often it was to the ballet that we would go and so there’s something innately Christmassy about the ballet for me.

In that respect, Tchaikovsky’s The Nutcracker is the perfect festive indulgence and in this classic production by Sir Peter Wright, we were given a sumptuous, traditional and gorgeously danced treat. It looks amazing, the sets for the first act just get better and better, I only wish we could spend longer in the section where Clara is shrunk as the giant tree looks magnificent, and the final tableau is goosebump-inducingly beautiful. The snow-goose-related coup de grâce that opens the second act perfectly embodies the kind of magic that feels just right at this time of year and overall, it is easy to see why this is a production that returns year after year. Continue reading “Review: The Nutcracker, Birmingham Royal Ballet at the Birmingham Hippodrome”