Saturday, December 31, 2016

SHE LOVES ME at the Menier Chocolate Factory - Love at Christmas...

My last two theatre visits of 2016 are coincidentally two shows that I have never seen onstage before but know very well through the original cast recordings - finally I know the bits that go between the songs!

SHE LOVES ME premiered in 1963 with a score by Jerry Bock and Sheldon Harnick and written by Joe Masteroff; it was an odd case of them all just being one-show-away from their career-defining highs - 1964 saw the premiere of Bock and Harnick's FIDDLER ON THE ROOF and in 1966 Masteroff wrote the book for a little-known musical called CABARET.

SHE LOVES ME is based on the Hungarian playwright Miklós László's 1937 play "Parfumerie" and has become a bit of a well-ridden pony: James Stewart and Margaret Sullivan starred in Ernst Lubitsch's 1940 film version "The Shop Around The Corner", in 1949 it inspired a first musicalization as "In The Good Old Summertime" starring Judy Garland and Van Johnson, and nearly 40 years later the plot served as the basis for the Tom Hanks/Meg Ryan film "You've Got Mail".

The original production was produced and directed by Hal Prince and was choreographed by Carol Haney (who tragically died the following year from pneumonia) and, in retrospect, provided Barbara Cook with her last great Broadway starring role playing Amalia opposite Daniel Massey's Georg.  The show was a modest hit and received a scant five Tony Nominations - none for the score - it's only win being for Jack Cassidy's duplicitous Kodaly.

A London production followed in 1964 (with the dynamic casting of Rita Moreno as the lovelorn Ilona) and in 1978 Gemma Craven and Diane Langton co-starred in a BBC tv version. SHE LOVES ME had to wait 30 years for a Broadway revival however but proved popular enough to transfer to London with Ruthie Henshall and John Gordon Sinclair as the leads where it ran for a year - and history repeated itself this year with a new revival at Studio 54 which has resulted in the Menier staging it as their Christmas show.

It's odd that there is an idea that the show is a difficult proposition to revive - all it needs is the right size theatre and a well-judged cast; the show could be accused of being old-fashioned and slight - but what it affords is a show of real charm and warmth, with characters that you quietly root for and leaves you feeling entertained and smiling.  A rare commodity these days when the one thing most musicals lack these days is a genuine heart.

Bock and Harnick's score keeps the songs coming - there are 16 in the first act - but they all are tuneful and move the story along.  The score is what has kept the show revivable, mainly in part to the sparkling original cast recording and Barbara Cook's subsequent solo career in cabaret and concerts where she regularly featured Amalia's great songs ICE CREAM, WILL HE LIKE ME, DEAR FRIEND and even Ilona's solo A TRIP TO THE LIBRARY.  Hearing them within the context of the show is like hearing from an old friend.

1930s Budapest: a small perfumerie and chemist shop is owned by Mr Maraczek, his staff include the assistant manager Georg, suave womanizer Mr Kodaly who is not-so-secretly sleeping with co-worker Ilona, the quiet Mr Sipos and the energetic delivery boy Arpad.  Into their world comes the eager-to-please Amalia who has heard of a job vacancy but Maraczek isn't hiring as the shop is just ticking by, the resourceful Amalia notices however the staff have difficulty selling a new range of music boxes so proves her worth by selling one as a musical candy-box which gets her the job.

Georg and Amalia take an instant dislike to each other but their antipathy chimes with Ilona's anger at being dumped by Kodaly and Mr Maraczek's sudden unhappiness with Georg.  What Amalia confides to Ilona and Georj to Sipos is that they are both in love with anonymous pen-pals who fill them with the chance of happiness in their lonely lives.  Yes you guessed... they are unknowingly writing to each other. 

With only a few weeks to Christmas and on the night they are due to meet for the first time, Georj, fed up by the increasingly nit-picking Maraczek, resigns and later on, after seeing to his horror that it's Amalia waiting for him in the designated meeting place with the book and rose to identify her as "Dear Friend", goes in and makes fun of her.  The next day the staff hear that Mr Maraczek has tried to kill himself, his increasing bad temper had been caused by his suspicions that his wife was having an affair with Georg only for it to be revealed that her lover was Kodaly.

Georg agrees to return as manager, Arpad is promoted to salesman, Kodaly skulks off to join a rival establishment and Ilona decides she will give up on men and start reading books instead.  But what of Georg and Amalia?  Will love find a way?  C'mon... this is 1963 Broadway!

Matthew White's heartwarming production fills the small Menier stage with bustling activity - more than one prop went flying due to the onstage business but it all added to the charm.  Paul Farnsworth's lovely set and costumes add the right period flavour and Paul Pyant's lighting is an added delight.  Rebecca Howell gives the show vibrant choreography that utilizes all the stage particularly in the busy romantic Café where waiters and customers dance and leap.

The cast all rise to the occasion and shine in their roles: Scarlett Strallen bursts off the stage with her lovely soprano and bubbly personality as Amalia, Mark Umbers is a slow-burn as Georg but finally flowers into a likeable hero, Les Dennis is surprisingly effective as the love-lorn Maraczek while Dominic Tighe makes a deliciously smooth Kodaly.

Katherine Kingsley is a larger-than-life Ilona who finds and delivers laughs with her cockney Ilona and rises to the challenge of her solo A TRIP TO THE LIBRARY wonderfully.  Callum Howells is a firecracker as the ambitious delivery boy Arpad - although the Norman Wisdom posture could be dialed down a bit - Alastair Brookshaw is a delight as the quiet Mr Sipos while Cory English really stands out as the Head Waiter of the romantic Café, trying to convince us that he provides a suitably subdued atmosphere - as the waiters crash metal trays all around him.

I had been a bit worried that the production might not give me the show that I had waited so long to see but SHE LOVES ME is one of the best musicals they have staged and if you want to see an example of classic Broadway musical comedy then run to see it before March 4th.

A remarkable postscript: MGM bought the film rights for the show and mooted it as a vehicle for Julie Andrews.  Both Harold Prince then Blake Edwards were named as directors with possible casting of Dick Van Dyke and Maurice Chevalier.  The studio was bought out however and in the changing mood of the times the project was dropped.

Thursday, December 29, 2016

THE NUTCRACKER at Covent Garden - Interrupted magic...

On the Monday before Xmas it was time to revisit the Royal Ballet's evergreen production of THE NUTCRACKER.  Yes, once again it was time to revisit the workshop of Herr Drosselmeyer, battle the Mouse King and journey to the Land of Sweets via the magical growing Christmas tree on the stage of Covent Garden.  Well I suppose three out of four isn't bad.

The Royal Ballet production of choreographer Peter Wright's THE NUTCRACKER is a Christmas staple at Covent Garden and after having fallen totally under it's spell last year, we pirouetted back for another helping, in fact we saw it's 436th performance!  This year is an extra-special revival as it mark's Sir Peter's 90th birthday.

It was a joy to see again and to hear the Royal Opera House orchestra under the baton of Boris Gruzin bring Tchaikovsky's thrilling score to life again - the second act could almost be called Ballet's Greatest Hits with the Chinese and Russian Divertissements followed by the Prince and Sugar Plum Fairy's glorious pas de deux and her solo.

We were about a third into the opening scene and gearing up to the big reveal - Drosselmeyer's shrinking Clara to the size of the Nutcracker by the scenic ploy of having the Christmas Tree at the back of the stage seeming to grow bigger and bigger and bigger.

Christopher Saunders as Drosselmeyer whipped his cloak around and about - it must be said not a patch on Gary Avis' capework from last year - and Meaghan Grace Hinkis' Clara fluttered about expectantly... but the tree stayed the same size.  With a whoosh the curtains flew in and a stage manager appeared to tell us that due to technical difficulties they were going to have stop for a few minutes... but, but, it's - like - Covent Garden!!!  It's the Christmas Tree!!!!

After what seemed an eternity - but probably not that long really - the orchestra struck up the transformation music, the curtains parted - and there was Clara and Drosselmeyer whirling away in front of the fully-grown tree.  I guess it was ok in the long run but darn, Constant Reader... I wanted to see the damn thing grow!

But the great thing about Peter Wright's NUTCRACKER is that it doesn't hang around over anything for too long, it's forever moving forward.  So after Clara defeats the Mouse King and frees Drosselmeyer's handsome nephew Hans-Peter from his Nutcracker spell, they are off into the world to experience the joy of dancing snowflakes and their trip to become guests of the Sugar Plum Fairy and her Prince.

Although I liked Hinkis and Valentino Zucchetti as Clara and Hans-Peter, I felt that Federico Bonelli and Laura Morera as the Prince and the Sugar Plum Fairy, while fine together, lacked something in their solos - the pairing last year of Steven McRae and Iana Salenko were excellent together and apart.

But the total work was still glorious: Wright's always thrilling choreography, the late Julia Trevelyan Oman's exquisite design and Mark Henderson's lighting all combine to make The Royal Ballet's THE NUTCRACKER a perennial must-see at Christmas time. 

Just sort out that Christmas Tree for next time, eh?

Saturday, December 24, 2016

THE RED SHOES at Sadler's Wells - Bourne to dance...

After what has seemed an interminable wait, finally last Thursday it was time to see Matthew Bourne's new ballet, his stage adaptation of the classic ballet film, THE RED SHOES at Sadler's Wells.  It was certainly worth the wait, it is a wonderful feat of story-telling through dance to the lush music of film composer Bernard Herrmann.

I cannot say I have ever been totally sold on the film which I find rather emotionally sterile - not the first time I have felt that regarding a Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger film - but it's cinematography and music certainly create memorable moments during the central 15 minute ballet sequence.  Personally I am with Val in A CHORUS LINE who shocks the other dancers by saying "Oh, yeah, let's get one thing straight.  See,  I  never heard about "The Red Shoes",  I  never saw "The Red Shoes",  I didn't give a fuck about "The Red Shoes."

The story remains the same - imperious ballet impresario  Boris Lermontov sees young ballerina Victoria Page dancing at a party given by her aunt and is impressed enough to offer her an audition for his company based in Monte Carlo.  Lermontov discreetly follows her progress as a member of the chorus so when the star ballerina Irina is injured , he promotes Victoria to her roles and ultimately to star in the company's new production, a version of Hans Christian Andersen's THE RED SHOES.

Victoria triumphs in the role of a girl who tries on a pair of magic red shoes only to find she cannot stop dancing in them, and also starts a relationship with the composer of the ballet Julian Craster .  The jealous Lermontov sacks Craster and Victoria chooses love over her career and leaves the company.  Their relationship founders however when they return to London after Victoria can only find work dancing in a tatty music hall.   She returns to Lermontov but the red shoes will again change her fate...

The intensely cinematic story is turned by Bourne into a wonderfully vivid and fluid ballet told through many different styles of dance: from classical ballet to romantic duets, from stiff social dancing to the routines of the music hall comedians and showgirls...

THE RED SHOES provides Matthew Bourne with a fantastic opportunity to tell a story which is never less than gripping and shows all his strengths as a master of narrative through dance, there are opportunities for him to show his fondness for character work - the ballet company and backstage creative team - but the importance of keeping the focus on the three main protagonists stops any indulgences in minor characters being too distracting as in his flawed version of EDWARD SCISSORHANDS.

Bourne is reunited with his previous collaborators, designer Lez Brotherston, lighting designer Paule Constable and orchestrator Terry Davies who all contribute hugely to the show's excellence - Brotherston's  evocative and atmospheric design of a rotating proscenium arch takes us both front and backstage  within seconds and his costumes are ravishing; Constable's powerful lighting creates mood and place on the stage, while Terry Davies has woven Herrmann's scores for films as diverse as CITIZEN KANE, THE GHOST AND MRS MUIR and FAHRENHEIT 451 into a seamless whole.

As usual, Bourne uses a  rotating cast of dancers who have all had previous experience in his productions: on the night we went, the luminous Cordelia Braithwaite was quite wonderful  as Victoria while the opposing, brooding men in her life were Sam Archer as Lermentov and Chris Trenfield as Craster.

As I said, Matthew Bourne gives great opportunities for supporting performers to shine and  here Liam Mower and Michela Meazza were excellent as the star performers in Lermontov's company - their jaded Covent Garden rehearsal was great fun to watch, and Glenn Graham was very effective as the company's ballet master and featured dancer.

It was thrilling to see Matthew Bourne again delivering an absolute classic  and THE RED SHOES provides a fitting climax to the year which started with his receiving a knighthood for services to dance.  Next year is New Adventures' 30th Anniversary which will see a regional tour for THE RED SHOES after it finishes it's sold out run at Sadler's Wells, a tour of Bourne early works called EARLY ADVENTURES and the year finishes with a revival of his production of CINDERELLA at Sadler's Wells.   

If you can I urge you to see THE RED SHOES, it has remained dancing around my mind like the red shoes of the title...

Thursday, December 22, 2016

PETER PAN at the National Theatre: Flying Blind....

Nearly twenty years ago the National Theatre staged a production of PETER PAN at the Olivier Theatre directed by John Caird as their Christmas show.  It was a full-on "bells and smells" production with lavish sets, lengthy running time and star names like Ian McKellen as Captain Hook and Jenny Agutter as Mrs Darling to buttress the relatively unknown Daniel Evans as Peter.

And now it's back in a new co-production with Bristol Old Vic.  I wish I had a better experience with it but it was a long slog, especially the first act.   Yes they fly... but the show is preciously short on wonder.  To be honest I had only booked as Sophie Thompson was due to play Mrs Darling / Captain Hook but she injured her wrist in rehearsals and pulled out.  Thank you for that Sophie *glares*

My heart sank when I realized that Paul Hilton (Peter Pan), Anna Francolini (Mrs Darling/Captain Hook) and Lois Chimimba (Tiger Lily) had all played star roles in the National Theatre's Xmas shitefest in 2015 WONDER.LAND, the absolute nadir in theatregoing. But here they were being directed by Sally Cookson who was responsible for the NT's 2014 Xmas show TREASURE ISLAND - again here we have her shtick of having non-traditionalist casting.

What was so depressing particularly about the first half was the grinding inevitability of the bete noir of my theatre-going this year - the absurd 'poor theatre' trops that flag that the production you see has the taint of Director Concept Theatre.  Teeth-grindingly over-played comedy roles such as Felix Hayes as Mr Darling and Ahamed Saikat as a gibberish, loutish Tinkerbell (both acting as if he is playing to an audience of retarded 4 year-olds), a woeful music score and, the ultimate banal artistic choice, filling the big bare stage with bits of old wood, corrugated iron and old carpet to turn into scenery and have moth-eaten woollen jumpers and bobble-hats donned as costumes.

It's so redundant as a stylistic choice and here is the real kick in the soft parts - all these faux-poor theatre trappings - and my ticket cost £52.  I really have no idea where that money went, it certainly was not reflected in the production.  It is the banal thought processes that have reached their laughable limit in the debacle of Emma Rice's sanctioned performances at the Globe this year.  They are trumpeted as 'magical' but they haven't the slightest shred of magic about them.  Let alone humour...

But even the lumpen thud of an ugly production cannot stand in the way of J.M. Barrie's story of the boy who wouldn't grow up and as the second half is pure plot it thundered along giving Hilton as Peter and Madeleine Worrall as Wendy real chances to shine, particularly in the final scene when Barrie highlights the inherent sadness of Peter's remaining forever outside of life and Wendy's in moving away forever from her childhood.  Anna Francolini was okay as Mrs Darling but made hardly any impression as Captain Hook, the NT keep trying to push her as a lead actress in these shows but to paraphrase my dear friend Andrew "as long as she's got a hole in her arse she'll always be supporting".  She simply doesn't have the star wattage for lead roles.

I first saw a production of PETER PAN onstage in 1969 - a mere babe in arms - at the New Victoria Theatre which featured Hayley Mills as Peter (in her UK stage debut) and Bill Travers as Captain Hook, I suspect in true JM Barrie fashion I am still pining for that more innocent show...

Tuesday, December 20, 2016

DEAD FUNNY at the Vaudeville Theatre - Black comedy...

I had been kicking myself that I missed seeing Terry Johnson's play DEAD FUNNY in 1994 at the Vaudeville Theatre when it starred David Haig and Zoe Wanamaker, so I was thrilled to hear that it was being revived at the same theatre.

The revival is directed by Johnson himself - who is known as much for being a director these days as a writer - and, interestingly, is now cast with tv comedy performers over more established stage actors. It probably makes more sense for the box-office but it did lead to some fairly thin performances dotted around the five-strong cast.

Johnson's play in retrospect plays a little like the classic comedy of embarrassment ABIGAIL'S PARTY with an uneasy social gathering exposing the fragile relationships of both hosts and guests.  That it misses the exquisite agony of ABIGAIL is unsurprising but it has plenty of laugh-out-loud moments and has it's own minor moments of insight.

Eleanor and Richard are a middle-class, professional couple but Eleanor is quietly - and not-so-quietly at times - desperate to have a child.  To paraphrase Big Mama in CAT ON A HOT TIN ROOF, when a marriage goes on the rocks the rocks can be found in the bed and that's what has happened to Eleanor and Richard.  Eleanor has been seeing a relationship councillor and attempts to engage him in early evening sexual therapy which Richard takes part in with all the enthusiasm of a patient being operated on without anesthetic.

Eleanor is also coming to the end of her tether with Richard's main joy in life, being the chairman of a small appreciation society for British comedians.  She is finding it increasingly easy to ridicule his passion (the only passion he shows her) and is openly tart to his friends.  The society is struggling for members due to a similar group attracting more fans but Richard seems to enjoy being looked up to by Brian, a lonely man now his mother has died, and Nick and Lisa, a young married couple facing their own problems dealing with a new baby - another thorn in Eleanor's side.

20th April 1992 - Gauche Brian interrupts the couple's sex therapy session - much to Richard's *ahem* relief - but he has come to break the news that Benny Hill has died.  Richard throws a wake to mourn the comedian and with Katherine spitting crushing observations from the sidelines, the group reminisce about the comedians that mean so much to them and their feelings of loss when one of their idols die.

Things take a turn for the worse when Katherine and Nick slowly begins to realize that, far from being impotent, Richard has been having an affair with Lisa which leads to violent recriminations and fighting which ironically feature custard pies and a very large bowl of trifle.  Even Brian's emotional coming-out declaration can not stop the rot finally being revealed in Eleanor and Richard's life together.

For all it's sexual frankness DEAD FUNNY feels oddly cosy and, after the blazing arguments and recriminations, it ends with two friends laughing together at the daftness of life and while it's good to end on a positive note, you cannot help but feel that Johnson has rather pulled back at the last minute.

The afore-mentioned thinness in performance showed up most strongly with Katherine Parkinson and Rufus Jones as Eleanor and Richard.  Parkinson, although a strong presence on stage, was too harsh in her caustic delivery; when she had to touch the heart to really show Eleanor's despair it seemed beyond her, while Jones' bland Teflon performance left this important character a cypher - not even his full frontal scene stayed in the memory.

However there was depth galore in the wonderful Steve Pemberton as Brian, socially awkward and always in the wrong place at the wrong time.  He slowly moved the character from a bumbling comic staple - the gormless friend - to a man who was grieving for the only comfort he ever knew and the uncertainty in his future, while still being very funny.

I also liked Ralf Little as Nick, the cuckolded friend who goes from Max Miller impressions to angry confrontation in the blink of an eye.  He has always been a subtle performer and he was very good here, one of his rare ventures onto stage.  He was well partnered by Emily Berrington as the duplicitous Lisa.

Terry Johnson has directed his play well, switching the mood from comedy to drama effortlessly.  There are precious few comedies on in the West End now and surely laughs are needed now more than ever so I would recommend it, catch it at the Vaudeville until 4th February.

Saturday, December 17, 2016

THE PEONY PAVILION at Sadler's Wells - For Your Eyes Only....

Another week, another ballet... only this one was a bit more out of the ordinary...

The National Ballet of China appeared at Sadler's Wells for a few nights presenting one of their big hits THE PEONY PAVILION and while it had moments of great beauty, for most of the evening I sat there in baffled incomprehension.

In essence the story is a young woman dies after meeting a young scholar, overwhelmed by the beauty in the world.  The scholar tracks her to the underworld and manages to bring her back to the living world - or is it all a dream?  Um.. you tell me.

It was certainly well danced in the Western tradition but also with the addition of a Chinese opera singer as the vocal spirit of the young girl.  Although her idiosyncratic singing was sometimes hard to take, visually she was a hoot, gliding around the stage in a fixed attitude, moving like she was standing on a hoverboard under her long frock... maybe she was!

It all built up to a spectacular finale with a seemingly endless slow procession of red-clad dancers diagonally across the stage who eventually formed a circle that raced around the centre of the stage to reveal the chair the girl was first seen in... they left the stage just in time for an avalanche of red petals to rain down on the stage.  Always send 'em out with a great final image - and this had it by the bucket-load!

First performed as an opera in 1598 which lasted about 20 hours (!), this thankfully shorter ballet version was adapted and directed by Li Liuyi with choreography by Fei Bo, the arresting design was by Michael Simon with costumes by Emi Wada and the score which incorporated Debussy, Ravel and Holst was by Guo Wenjing.

I am glad I saw it for the spectacle but I think I might just leave it at the one time... you can only take so many prancing demons in one lifetime.  It was all very striking though...

Wednesday, December 14, 2016

LAZARUS at The Kings Cross Theatre - The Man Who Stayed On Earth

As it turned out, the announcement of David Bowie's death in the second week of January was an omen for the year to come as it has been a litany of unhappy news ever since.  But Bowie has haunted 2016 and as it started with the release of his album BLACKSTAR, it ends with the London premiere of his musical LAZARUS which he completed shortly before his death.  Indeed Bowie's appearance at the show's premiere in New York was the last time he was seen in public.

It would have been wonderful to say that LAZARUS is a perfect end to a dazzling career but, while the show is brimming with creative ideas and the Bowie songs are obviously sparkling with his genius - as is fast becoming a mantra on this blog when discussing musicals - without a sturdy book any show will just be a collection of disparate moments, and playwright Enda Walsh's book is frustratingly opaque and never far from being annoying.

LAZARUS is a sequel to THE MAN WHO FELL TO EARTH, both the original Walter Tevis novel and the Nicolas Roeg film, in which Bowie played the tailor-made lead role.  Thomas Jerome Newton is an alien who has come to Earth from his arid planet to use his advanced technical knowledge to raise the money for his own space programme so he can return home with water to save his planet.  However Newton has reckoned without the evil ways of Mankind and his plan is frustrated, leaving him stranded on earth, rich beyond measure but alone and lost to alcoholism.

LAZARUS raises Newton to continue his story; now isolated in an anonymous apartment building the alien boozes his time away waiting for the release of death while various under-written characters float in and around the action: a psychopath stalking the clubs of NY, Newton's assistant who is almost possessed by Newton's long-gone love Mary-Lou and an ethereal child-woman who knows more about Newton than he understands.

It is so maddeningly elusive that after a while I thought "okay you don't want me to get involved with these characters? Fine I won't" so checked out and watched the pretty video projections on the otherwise ghastly beige anonymous apartment set.

US TV star Michael C Hall played Newton with some level of intensity but, given nothing to do then wander around the stage, he soon wore out his welcome.  Fellow American actor Michael Esper had a bit more to do as the murderous Valentine, but as soon as the character announced his name I was literally counting down the minutes until the appearance of the song "Valentine's Day".  Boy did it take it's time too.

I had more trouble with Sophia Anne Caruso as the blonde Girl and Amy Lennox as the schizophrenic Elly.  The latter goes into full drunk slut-mode within minutes and the young girl finally reveals that she is the spirit of a dead girl who is hanging about to die properly before Newton can get the release he needs.  All the time these characters were on stage it was hard to overlook Enda Walsh's ghastly misogynist writing of these two characters.  It certainly wasted both actress' talents.

Bowie's score sounded excellent under the musical direction of Tom Cawley and the onstage band - trapped behind glass like a recording studio - sounded fine; the sax was played by James Knight who was Kirsty MacColl's partner.  But although it was nice to hear the Bowie songs played live, that did not stop the clash of hearing songs like MAN WHO SOLD THE WORLD, HEROES, LIFE ON MARS and ABSOLUTE BEGINNERS shoe-horned into Walsh's naff book.  They are too unique to be 'book' songs with too many personal resonances to fit in a musical.  You can do that kind of stuff with the songs of Abba in MAMMA MIA... but Bowie?  Nope.

Ivo van Hove's production certainly never felt dull thanks to the video projections of Tal Yarden and the contribution of van Hove's lighting designer partner Jan Versweyveld but when the music and the lighting stopped and the speaking started... yeesh.  It was telling that the biggest ovation at the curtain call was when a large picture of Bowie filled the stage, his giving the audience an "I'll be seeing you" gesture being probably all we needed to see after all...

Saturday, December 03, 2016

CHROMA / MULTIVERSE / CARBON LIFE at Covent Garden - Wayne's World

A week or so ago we returned to the Opera House Covent Garden, which is fast becoming a second home!  This time it was to see a triple-bill celebrating resident choreographer Wayne McGregor's 10th anniversary with the company; it centred on a premiere work MULTIVERSE and this was bracketed by two previously seen works CHROMA and CARBON LIFE.

McGregor's choreography is not always easy and he evidently wants to push the boundaries of the music that can be utilized for the Royal Ballet but his WOOLF WORKS was our entry point to the Royal Ballet so he will always be interesting to us.

CHROMA premiered in 2006 and in this revival McGregor has invited dancers from the Alvin Ailey company to join his Royal Ballet troop to bring their particular brand of dynamism; indeed the first two dancers seen are the hypnotic partnership of the delightfully-named Jeroboem Bozeman and Jacqueline Green who were quite amazing.  The company also included such stalwarts as Sarah Lamb, Federico Bonelli and Lauren Cuthbertson - the recent birth of a child might be good news for Steven McRae but sadly it robbed us of a chance to see his excellent dancing!  John Pawson's cool and formal set design and McGregor's intricate yet flailing choreography was danced to tracks by Joby Talbot and Jack White of The White Stripes, however they all sounded vaguely like attempts at writing James Bond car chase themes.  It was however a fantastic piece of dance theatre.

The premiere work MULTIVERSE sat in the middle of the evening and has not received the warmest reception.  It is an incredibly hard piece to like; admire possibly, but very hard to like.  It is set to two looped verbal works by the minimalist composer Steve Reich which were taken from a speech by an American black preacher in 1965 and called "It's Gonna Rain".  This phrase repeats and repeats, words are dropped, the phrase is multi-tracked starting at different moments to create a dense soundscape that batters against your ears.

Sadly - after a day of being on the phone listening to complaints from annoyed people - the preacher's multi-tacked rant left me ice cold and if I am honest, McGregor's choreography displayed all the characteristics of "modern dance" or to quote the legend that is Nicola Blackman, "six dancers running around trying to find the toilet with the light out".  Danced on a raked triangular stage, one could admire the commitment of the dancers who included Marianela Nunez, Eric Underwood and Edward Watson and towards the end, during the second Reich composition "Runner" from last year, there was finally some orchestral input and some interesting visual imagery, but by then I had disengaged from it.

It was with a suspicious heart that I took my seat for the last piece CARBON LIFE but here we were back to the McGregor we know: provocative, exciting and with a fluid sexuality.  CARBON LIFE premiered in 2012 and is danced to a score of Mark Ronson and Andrew Wyatt songs.  The music is played by an onstage band and a roster of singers - sadly absent was Boy George who had appeared in the premiere run four years ago but among the onstage singers was fellow-gayer Sam Sparrow.

Over nine songs the 18 dancers perform duets and small ensemble pieces, all with the signature McGregor moves of stretching, spinning, counterpoint movement and strong lines, but also clothed in the minimalist, futuristic costume designs of Gareth Pugh and lit by Lucy Carter's lighting design.  By the time of the last song "Somebody To Love Me" I was totally won over by McGregor's fusion of dance, pop music and fashion.  Ronson's songs sounded fantastic bouncing around the auditorium and all concerned are missing a trick not having the music recorded and available to buy.

I guess two out of three ain't bad - I would really like to see CHROMA and CARBON LIFE again.  Make it happen Covent Garden!