Don quixote

Uninventive and far too polite: BRB’s Black Sabbath – The Ballet reviewed

Not being an aficionado of the heavy-metal genre, I snootily suspected that I would rather be standing in the rain flogging the Big Issue than suffer the racket that goes by the name of Black Sabbath. The noise, my dear, and the people! How could they? So I approached Birmingham Royal Ballet’s attempt to dance to its shenanigans armed with earplugs and gritted teeth. It wasn’t nearly as bad as I expected: in fact, it erred towards the polite and tasteful, and I wondered if a crowd largely consisting of hairy and leathery old rockers – some of them possibly anticipating satanic rituals or heads being bitten off chickens –

All at sea | 2 May 2019

The climactic central scene of Benjamin Britten’s Billy Budd ends unexpectedly. The naval court has reached a verdict of death, and Captain Vere must depart to tell Billy his fate. Voices fall silent, the stage empties, and for two whole minutes the unseen drama is distilled into just 34 chords. And not sprawling elbowfuls of notes either, but plain old triads — the child’s building blocks of harmony. It’s wilfully, maddeningly ambiguous and utterly inspired. It’s also a touchstone for any performance — the moment the opera reveals itself either as a parable, groping gradually but surely towards redemption, or a darker tale of the indiscriminate cruelty of fate. Deborah

Dancing up a La Mancha storm

The trouble with Don Quixote is Don Quixote. Whenever the doddering, delusional Don is onstage, tilting at windmills, riding his straw-and-sawdust nag on wheels, jousting with bedposts, our spirits and sympathies suffer. Quixote’s quest only really works as an excuse for Kitri, Basilio, Espada the Matador and Mercedes the street minx to dance up a La Mancha storm. This they do, with bells on. In toreador waistcoat, tight taleguilla and pink stockings to match his cape, Ryoichi Hirano is the Mata-phwoar. The corps de ballet swoon and flutter. He is sexy, even caddish. I was a Hirano doubter, but this was a magnificent performance: athletic power matched by classical control.

This will end badly | 15 November 2018

Pinter Three appeals to opposite poles of the play-going spectrum. The birdbrains like me will enjoy the music-hall sketches while the goatee-strokers will have fun pretending that Pinter’s deadly earnest memory plays are worth seeing. Watching the first piece, Landscape, is like receiving a jigsaw puzzle in instalments. Two characters, Duff and Beth, speak to us without acknowledging each other. Maybe they’re married. Maybe they aren’t. Duff, played by Keith Allen, is a barking, aggressive know-all who works as a chauffeur. Tamsin Greig’s Beth is a prattling Irish scullery maid who witters on about ‘having a baby’ with a lover who may be Duff, or an unseen chap named Sykes,

Trains in Spain

The first railway line in Spain, from Barcelona to Mataro a few miles up the coast towards the French border, was built in 1848 by British workers and with British expertise. I was reflecting on this, and the huge difference today between the services provided by our two countries’ railways, as the train passed through Mataro on the way to Girona. The 90-minute journey, for those of us of a certain age with a tarjeta dorada, cost five euros. The return journey to Barcelona by express train took 38 minutes and cost less than ten euros. Train travel in Spain is not only amazingly cheap; it is comfortable, efficient and

Mad about the boy | 3 August 2017

Tall, handsome boys with long legs and beautifully arched feet do not grow on trees (if only). Every ballet director knows this and yet tall, handsome Xander Parish spent five years blushing unseen in the Covent Garden chorus. The London critics soon spotted him — a rogue tulip in the ensemble — but it was only when the Mariinsky’s Yuri Fateyev was guest coaching the Royal Ballet in 2010 that his potential was realised. Within months he had joined the Mariinsky in St Petersburg — the first British dancer ever to do so. After four years he was made soloist, then first soloist and, last Thursday, on the Royal Opera

Young at heart

The second half of the Bolshoi tour brought much fresher fare than the first: following the ubiquitous warhorses Don Quixote and Swan Lake, we got three jolly nights of Moscow speciality: an iffy Shakespeare comedy nailed by superb performing, a giddy rewrite of Stalin’s favourite ballet and a breathtakingly fruity restoration of a 19th-century ballet entertainment, with pirate ships, dancing gardens and a vision of the hedonistic life of abducted women somewhat at odds with Boko Haram’s. The sexual politics of Shakespeare’s The Taming of the Shrew are potentially tricky for ballet since the woman is physically dependent on the man. But Monte Carlo choreographer Jean-Christophe Maillot was quite smart

Poetry in motion | 4 August 2016

For almost 60 years, whatever the political weather, Russia and Britain have maintained mutually assured respect as far as ballet is concerned. In October 1956, the Soviet Union finally allowed its Bolshoi troupe to appear in the west, in London, a state cultural exchange that should have entailed the debut of the comparatively green Sadler’s Wells Ballet in Russia within weeks. Owing to the inconvenient appearance of Soviet tanks in rebellious Hungary, it wasn’t until 1961 that the renamed Royal Ballet turned up in Moscow. (Khrushchev gushed admiringly, ‘Look at those girls — they might be Russian!’) I looked up The Spectator’s October 1956 review of that Bolshoi debut: some

Cervantes the seer

William Egginton opens his book with a novelistic reimagining: here’s Miguel de Cervantes, a toothless old geezer of nearly 60, on his way to the printers with his new manuscript. On a hot August day in 1604, a man walked through the dusty streets of Valladolid, Spain, clutching in his right hand a heavy package. In the absence of any authentic portraits, we must trust his own words to know that he was brown-haired and silver-bearded, with an aquiline (but well-proportioned, he adds) nose and cheerful eyes partly hidden behind a pair of smeared spectacles resembling, in the words of one of his literary rivals, badly fried eggs. By the

Dear Mary: How can I remedy an insult to my bookshop customers?

From Nicky Dunne, Heywood Hill bookshop Q. A much admired actor rang our bookshop to send a hardback copy of Don Quixote, with an appreciative handwritten note, to a very distinguished fellow board-treader. Unfortunately we sent a children’s illustrated edition by mistake, thereby putting a backhand slice on what was meant to be a compliment. How can I make it up to them both? A. Obviously you should send a complimentary copy of the real version – but don’t apologise too much. Actors have the most fragile of egos and you must not risk fomenting heightened paranoia. Instead blame the mistake on your intern, explaining that, since colouring-in books for

West End wannabe

The love that asks no questions, the love that pays the price… The amount of unconditional love sloshing about at the Royal Ballet for choreographers and dancers is making this autumn in Bow Street a test of loyalty. At his season press conference Royal Ballet artistic director Kevin O’Hare smilingly promised us that the 2020 season might contain only works made in the past ten years. God preserve us. Two of the autumn’s three bills so far have been mixed programmes dominated by new or recent in-house contemporary ballets, and only Liam Scarlett’s Viscera, in the current bill, should be longlisted for 2020. The rest should be longlisted for other

Rio’s rococo genius

The surname is pronounced ‘M’shahdo j’Asseece’. There are also two Christian names — Joaquim Maria — which are usually dispensed with. K. David Jackson, professor of Portuguese at Yale, confines himself to ‘Machado’ and has invented an adjective ‘Machadean’. Stefan Zweig, who committed suicide in the very Machadean town of Petropolis, called him ‘the Dickens of Brazil’ which is not true — he has not Dickens’s range or sustained ebullience. I used to say he was the Gogol of Brazil — particularly in his short stories — but re-reading Dom Casmurro, one of the five novels of Machado’s maturity, I can see he has not Gogol’s hatred, which gives the

The best (and worst) of ballet and dance over Christmas

The Nutcracker, English National Ballet, until 4 Jan *** The Little Match Girl, Lilian Baylis Studio, until 4 Jan ***** Edward Scissorhands, Sadler’s Wells, until 11 Jan *** Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, Royal Ballet, until 16 Jan ** The Mad Hatter’s Tea Party, Linbury Studio Theatre, until 17 Jan ** Amazing, the change in the dance weather this Christmas. Where usually there is snow, fairies, tinkly celestas, a glut of Nutcrackers, traditions have turned topsy-turvy. At the Royal Ballet the sun has broken out (if mildly) in its Don Quixote, as I reported last week, and only the dependable English National Ballet is serving up a trad Nutcracker over Christmas, at the Coliseum. Yet I can’t remember a Christmas when there was so

Royal Ballet’s Don Quixote: Carlos Acosta is too brainy with this no-brain ballet

One feels the pang of impending failure whenever the Royal Ballet ventures like a deluded Don Quixote into a periodic quest to stage that delightful old ballet named after him. Twice in recent years has it tilted at the windmill and flopped back, dazed and bruised. It never remembers, though, and here it goes a third time. A Spanish romp in the sun, with brilliant dancing, silly comedy and a happy ending, makes a perfect change from the usual Christmas Nutcracker, does it not? And nowadays, with such a substantial cohort of Cuban, Argentinian, Brazilian and Spanish dancers the Royal should be able to scorch the floor in required style,

Carlos Acosta’s Don Quixote lacks the wow factor

Superstar Carlos Acosta makes little or no reference to Don Quixote’s established history in his programme note about the genesis of his new ballet. As a dancer hailing from Cuba, he is certainly familiar with the work’s performance tradition, but a greater historical awareness would probably have helped Acosta rethink his realistic approach to the 1869 work. However, history is frequently frowned upon in today’s culture. Don Q, as it is affectionately known, is regarded by dance highbrows as the compendium of all those theatrical and choreographic conventions that give ballet a bad name. Yet if the ballet has successfully stood the test of time, it is because of its