Ockham's Razor, Linbury Studio/ROH
Yuri Grigorovich Birthday Tribute, Royal Opera House, London
Wednesday 31 January 2007
Ockham's Razor, appearing as part of the London International Mime Festival, is a young company, founded in 2004 by a group of aerialists who met when studying in Bristol. The name comes from the medieval philosopher William of Ockham: given a choice between two theories, go for the simpler one.
To the sound of the sea, three people lie exhausted on a raft. The raft is a grid, high above the stage of the Linbury Studio Theatre. As the trio wake up and start jockeying for space, their position is precarious.
This is the first of three works, which are all dramas. Since the performers are usually balanced somewhere high up, their catches and holds become perilously expressive, and their real vulnerability and strength becomes part of the story.
In Arc, the two women, Charlotte Mooney and Tina Koch, wear bright dresses. The one man, Alex Harvey, has an undone evening tie. He's the most despondent of the three, ready to plunge off the raft. Those near-misses are real falls: he drops, caught at the last second by a hooked elbow.
The newest of these pieces, Arc is the most striking. The award-winning Momento Mori seems limited by comparison, though this dance-of-death duet is strongly performed.Harvey is implacable, all straight lines, while Mooney winds herself around him.
In Every Action..., four people play with a rope pulley. Whenever someone pulls their end of the rope, they send someone else rising or falling. The audience gasp as the performers are pulled off their feet.
A tribute should show off its hero, not show him up. London's Russians had turned out in force for this celebration of choreographer Yuri Grigorovich, the foyer was packed with furs and diamonds. On stage, the event went from repetitive bombast to sheer ugliness.
Yet Grigorovich, who directed the Bolshoi Ballet for three decades, has had a substantial career. His ballets, with their simple morals and powerhouse displays of technique, were warmly supported by the Soviet regime, and popular around the world.
Leaving the Bolshoi after the fall of the Soviet Union, Grigorovich founded his own company, based in Krasnodar. For this birthday gala, the Krasnodar company performed excerpts from three works, with stars from today's Bolshoi in the leading roles.
The Krasnodar orchestra was shamefully bad. These musicians must play Spartacus all the time, so why can't they make a better job of it? Phrasing was hoarse, with strained brass and collapsing woodwind. All three ballets suffer from Simon Virsaladze's designs, with their clashing colours and felt-like wigs.
Denis Matvienko roars through the jumps and turns, but takes the caveman partnering more cautiously. Still, he has the energy to draw the ballet together. The Krasnodar dancers are well drilled. Slave girls droop prettily, while the Romans take their goose-steps very seriously.
The evening went into freefall with The Golden Age. This ballet was a hit in Russia and Britain in the 1980s. I can't think why. The hero, a fisherman in bottom-hugging trousers, faces up to a black-clad gang leader. This interminable excerpt cuts between a fishing village and a nightclub. Grigorovich's chorus girls dance repetitive steps to Shostakovich's "Tea for Two". The Bolshoi stars dance cleanly, but they can't bring this stuff to life.
The Nutcracker shows Grigorovich in tutu mode. It's a scary sight, with hobbling pointe work and miserable character dancing. Just when you think it can't get worse, the French couple run on, dragging a tatty stuffed sheep on wheels.
Grigorovich ran one of the world's great dance companies, but in trying to demonstrate his achievements, this gala made them look shaky.
And now, a happy ending. Last February, the Royal Ballet's Ivan Putrov injured his knee, horribly and publicly. Knee injuries are usually serious, but Putrov returned last Friday, as James in La Sylphide. The audience welcomed him, throwing flowers, covering the stage.
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