Impressing the Czar, Sadler's Wells, London
Tuesday 11 November 2008
In the auction scene from William Forsythe's Impressing the Czar, props and dancers are dragged forward and displayed to the audience. Agnes, the main speaking character, tries to keep control. As she harangued audience and dancers, I wondered if Forsythe was aiming for a Monty Python effect: absurd detail, manic action, surrealism. If so, it falls flat.
Part of the Sadler's Wells "Focus on Forsythe" season, this is one of the American choreographer's most famous works. At the heart of the ballet is In the middle, somewhat elevated, an aggressively speedy dance made for the Paris Opera Ballet in 1988.
The work has been brought back by the Royal Ballet of Flanders and its director Kathryn Bennetts, a Forsythe associate. They take on their new signature work with energy, but could use more bite. So could the material.
The opening movement piles up a jumble of symbols. A slanting chess-board takes up part of the stage, with gilded objects laid out on its squares. Dancers in full skirts perform courtly steps or frantic mime scenes. Painted canvases are unrolled and draped around dancers. A man imitates the Venus de Milo's pose.
Agnes (Helen Pickett) wanders through the action, commenting on the dancers and pictures by radio link to her colleague Roger. It's meant to be random and fragmented, a collage of references, academic points and slapstick. But surely it wasn't meant to be boring? Forsythe and his dancers go on and on and on, telling the same joke forever. Pickett's delivery is hasty and slack. There are some recent additions to the script, references to the American election and the credit crunch, but they're lazy gags. Just mentioning something doesn't count as comment, whether it's Sarah Palin or the whole of western civilisation.
The strongest section is In the middle. The Flanders dancers don't match the articulation and dance contrast of the Kirov, who danced this work at Sadler's Wells last month, but they do drive through these walloping steps. Aki Saito is pugnacious and fast in the leading female role. Here, the ballet is performed on a completely bare stage – even the wings have been taken out – so that the movement is isolated in a huge empty space. The dancers look both smaller and more explosive for it.
Impressing the Czar ends with a big group dance. The whole company return, in ugly wigs and schoolgirl outfits, for a huge circle dance. Even that isn't the explosive finale Forsythe had in mind. Everything needs more drive.
TV reviewGrace Dent: Jimmy McGovern's new drama sheds light on sex slavery in the colonies
Eurovision 2015Australian Idol winner unveiled as representative Down Under
Arts & Ents blogs
- 1 Tourist films plane's descent just metres above packed Caribbean beach
- 2 Kate Moss: Previously unpublished nude photo revealed by Mert and Marcus
- 3 Indian woman creates 'Marriage CV' after parents put her on dating site: 'Definitely not marriage material. Won’t grow long hair, ever'
- 4 World Book Day: Boy 'excluded' from school after dressing up as Fifty Shades' Christian Grey
- 5 Bad Jews poster 'censored' on London Tube
The 9 rules every Wile E. Coyote and Road Runner cartoon had to follow are wonderfully pedantic
Toy Story 4: Pixar promises a romcom storyline 'separate' from the much-loved trilogy
Fifty Shades of Grey movie shows first sex scene 'after 40 minutes'
Bad Jews poster 'censored' on London Tube
World Book Day: Boy 'excluded' from school after dressing up as Fifty Shades' Christian Grey
Nearly 100,000 of Britain's poorest children go hungry after parents' benefits are cut
Durham Free School: 'Creationism taught at' free school facing closure
End of the licence fee: BBC to back radical overhaul of how it is funded
Elif Shafak: Turkish author warns against rise of British nationalism
Most people think legal tax avoidance is just as wrong as illegal tax evasion, poll suggests
Nigel Farage promises Ukip will not 'stigmatise' would-be migrants – and says he wants 'everyone to speak the same language'