Sadler's wells

Arresting and memorable: Compagnie Maguy Marin’s May B reviewed

Samuel Beckett was notoriously reluctant to let people muck about with his work, so it’s somewhat surprising to learn that he licensed and approved Maguy Marin’s May B. This 90-minute ‘dance theatre’ fantasia may play on vaguely Beckettian themes but in no way is it faithful to his texts or instructions – in some respects it even subverts them. Yet it has enjoyed huge success all over Europe since its première in 1982, and finally reached Britain last week. A long wait, for something that turns out to be very odd indeed. Ten dancers of all shapes and sizes in grotesque make-up and dressed in chalky, tatty underclothes stand immobile

From the sublime to the ridiculous: Royal Ballet’s MacMillan triple bill reviewed

My feelings about the genius of Kenneth MacMillan have always been volatile, but in the course of the Royal Ballet’s current triple bill, they veered even more wildly than usual between uncomplicated delight, awed reverence and embarrassment. A revival of his early Danses Concertantes, firing off Stravinsky at his most effervescent and designed with exuberantly colourful Festival-of-Britain jazziness by Nicholas Georgiadis, provided half an hour of pure joy. Stylistically an exercise in the neoclassicism that dominated the postwar era, it’s witty, chic and upbeat, exploring sharp angles rather than smooth curves and lyrical lines. MacMillan’s choreographic invention is profligate, with little twists and unexpected turns, all infused with an infectious

Stunts, gimmicks, tricks, hot air: snapshots from the edge of modern dance

This month I’ve been venturing into the further reaches of modern dance – obscure territory where I don’t feel particularly comfortable. In its hinterland is the Judson Church in New York: it was here, during the early 1960s, that young Turks such as Trisha Brown and Steve Paxton began investigating the idea that dance need not involve formalised gestures or what primary school teachers call ‘movement to music’, but could grow instead out of quotidian activities such as running, jumping and walking. From that point of departure, the journey has become ever more extreme and contorted, traversing the realms of performance art and installation, often politicised and sometimes pornographic. I

A solid evening’s entertainment: Rambert’s Peaky Blinders ballet reviewed

Being of a squeamish sensibility and prejudiced by a low opinion of recent BBC drama, I can claim only a superficial acquaintance with Peaky Blinders. So my response to The Redemption of Thomas Shelby, a new ballet drawing on the popular television series about gangland Birmingham during the 1920s, is that of a rank outsider. Produced by Rambert (in association with Birmingham Hippodrome), it represents the company’s admirable attempt to find a broader audience and move out of the modern dance ghetto – hence presenting the show at the new Troubadour Theatre in Wembley Park rather than Sadler’s Wells. A spot check on the demographic suggests that it succeeded: but

Touching, eclectic and exhilarating: Rambert Dance is in great shape

Rambert ages elegantly: it might just rank as the world’s oldest company devoted to modern dance (whatever that term might mean nowadays), but as it approaches its centenary, it’s still in great shape. Lean and hungry, open-minded and light-footed, it’s been lucky over the past 40 years to have enjoyed a stable succession of excellent artistic directors – Richard Alston, Christopher Bruce, Mark Baldwin and now the French-American Benoit Swan Pouffer – as well as policies that have healthily prevented it from becoming fixated on one choreographer or aesthetic. It keeps moving. The current ensemble of 17 dancers makes a crack team, offering a broad range of body types and

Why is dance so butch these days?

For an art form that once boldly set out to question conventional divisions of gender, ballet now seems to be retreating towards the butch – ironically, just as the rest of the world is moving obsessively to the femme. Scroll back a century or so and Nijinsky cross-dressed at masked balls, danced on pointe and covered himself in petals as le spectre de la rose; in Les Biches, his sister Nijinska shamelessly choreographed all manner of sexual indeterminacy and suggested that girls could also be boys. Then came the Carry On stereotype of limp-wristed ephebes in pink tights with an ominous bulge – every mother’s nightmare in the homophobic post-war

Swings between violence and comedy: Pina Bausch’s Kontakthof, at Sadler’s Wells, reviewed

When you take in the richness of a Pina Bausch production — the redolent staging, the eloquent, eccentric twists of the choreography — it’s everything and it’s something. Kontakthof, created in 1978, sounds the bell of hopeful passes and freighted expectations, centuries of hearts on the line, desperate to elude solitude. A keystone of her back catalogue, the piece illuminates the convoluted, often rotten thrusts of human desire, with special emphasis on women’s vulnerability in the dating game. A gramophone pipes out vintage love songs as the ensemble to and fro across a dance hall in Bausch’s standard-issue suits and gowns. The title — a reference to the area of

Rojo’s choreographic updating is a visual feast: English National Ballet’s Raymonda reviewed

Velvet waistcoats, technicolour tulle and some very spangly harem pants — English National Ballet’s atelier must have been mighty busy prepping for Raymonda, Tamara Rojo’s lavish new reboot of Marius Petipa’s 1898 ballet. Antony McDonald’s costumes shimmer as vibrantly as his stage design, and Rojo’s choreographic treatment is its own visual feast, packed with pinwheeling set pieces that repackage Petipa’s fearsome technique with their own pizazz. I can’t say the narrative is quite so electric, even with its conscientious redraft, which excises the xenophobia of the original scenario, along with its damsel-in-distress storyline, and trades the 13th century for the 19th, with the Crusades swapped for the Crimean War. In

The Nutcracker wasn’t always considered quite such a box of delights

E.T.A. Hoffmann’s tale of a young man turned into a novelty kitchen gadget by an evil rodent isn’t obvious dance material, and yet here we are, up to our plastic tiaras in sugar plums. Four Nutcrackers in London alone and an average of 200 productions, amateur and professional, across the Atlantic. How? Why? Sharp pens greeted the 1892 St Petersburg première — ‘it’s a pity that so much fine music is expended on nonsense’ — and within two decades it was little more than a box of delights to be raided by directors and choreographers, blithely borrowing anything they fancied from Lev Ivanov’s choreography or Tchaikovsky’s ravishing, bittersweet score, regardless

Zany and sensory-rich: Scottish Dance’s Amethyst/TuTuMucky at The Place reviewed

The Barcelona-born choreographer Joan Clevillé has form for off-beat storytelling with a streak of sincerity. Before becoming artistic director of Scottish Dance Theatre in 2019, he led his own dance theatre company, where even his wackier creations took their caprices seriously enough to get audiences on board. Clevillé’s new commission for SDT, Amethyst by Mele Broomes of Project X Dance, is sketched in similar shades. Zany and sensory-rich, this vortex of warbling voice work and zigzag dancing tallies up to something sleeker than its scrappy parts. The half-hour trio opens with Glenda Gheller on the mic, reciting a short speech about fragmentation — of stories, faces, perspectives, identities. ‘I feel

Skirt-swishing and stomach-dropping: Ukrainian Ballet Gala, at Sadler’s Wells, reviewed

Like musical supergroups and Olympic basketball teams, ballet galas tend to prize individual gifts over group cohesion. A recent one produced by dramaturg Olga Danylyuk and Royal Ballet alumni Ivan Putrov gathers Ukrainian dancers stationed at companies around America and Europe, plus soloists from the Ukrainian National Ballet, for a showcase of homeland talent. There’s definite star power on show — the cast is rounded off with leads from the Royal Ballet and English National Ballet, and Putrov himself was set to perform before an injury sidelined him — but with it some contrasting and occasionally competing performance styles. These come to bear in System A/I, a new ensemble piece

Swaggerific display of pumping chests and crotch-grabbing struts: NYDC’s Speak Volumes reviewed

Last week I attended a dance performance in person for the first time since March last year. If you’d asked me to choose the ideal show for the occasion, I’d have probably picked something with marquee names and lavish costumes — a classical ballet gala, or maybe one of Matthew Bourne’s glittering productions. As it happens, I watched teenagers in bomber jackets snarl at each other in between dance-offs — and actually, it was just the ticket. Mental health issues among teens have rocketed during the pandemic, and this crew, from National Youth Dance Company, drive the point home with a hard-nosed production that doesn’t ask so much as command

Crystal Pite tore the house down: Royal Ballet’s 21st-Century Choreographers reviewed

The choreographers called on to get the nation’s dancers back on to the stage have as much to say about the state of our times as they do about art. Many of the works were created during the pandemic. English National Ballet’s Reunion started life as a series of dance films that were streamed last winter; with the opening of theatres, ENB’s artistic director Tamara Rojo asked the choreographers to adapt them for live staging. Sidi Larbi Cherkaoui’s Laid in Earth was the most moving; a portrait of man coming to terms with impending death, whether his own or his lover’s. To a live performance of ‘Dido’s Lament’, four dancers