According to the Met's boys in blue, some quarter of a million people passed through the Southbank Centre site during the June weekend that the newly refurbished Royal Festival Hall first opened its doors. With dozens of free performances of dance, music and film, both indoors and out, the weekend proved an immense success, popular beyond all expectations.
Last weekend, the company known as Stan Won't Dance followed this up with an hour-long outdoor spectacle called Off the Wall. Despite the torrential rain earlier on Friday, the piazza at the back of Royal Festival Hall (now named Southbank Centre Square) was crammed. Many of the spectators were busy filming the action on their mobiles.
The street theatre began with a ram's-headed, blue-skinned stilt-walker leading some sort of mythical beast through the crowd. This unicorn-horned minotaur is actually an outsized two-man puppet in a voluminous black-feathered shroud.
This led on to abseiling down the side of the Royal Festival Hall, fire-juggling on the Hayward Gallery terrace, and circus artists spinning on trapezes inside a geodesic dome sculpture which began the evening tarpaulined in billowing green silk but was eventually flooded with light and clouds of billowing smoke, to say nothing of sparkling Catherine wheels. There was also a choir, garbed in silver, singing a Michael Nyman tune and much more.
They were all involved in some sort of vague futuristic story that pitted half of the performers against the others. It's something like Star Wars vs The Lord of the Rings. These various groups are called things such as drones, automata and resistance fighters. Why they are warring is never adequately explained, and the sententious narration projected over a hollow sound system was too often unintelligible.
At the centre of all this was a character called The Outsider. Performed by Troy Feldman, he is a lone figure in white, a dare-devil vigilante of good. Based in Toronto, Feldman is known as a leading parkour practitioner. First developed in France, parkour is an extreme art/sport that turns the urban landscape into a challenging obstacle course. It is literally off the wall, and here Feldman not only plunges down and leaps over everything in sight, he flies from the top of the Festival Hall roof down to the Hayward terrace wearing a pair of huge flaming angel wings.
What the crowd encountered was a dizzy mix of gymnastics, hip-hop and carnival laced with lengthy stretches of non-activity. Even though the cast numbered more than 100, their "stage" was so vast that travel time had to be factored in between the highlights. Sometimes the performers forced their way through the crowd, at others they were herded along like prisoners of war. One victim was rolled through the square splayed on a wheel. Another group turned up in the windows of the new office building that runs parallel to the rail tracks. Pressed up against the glass and scrambling to escape, they looked like desperate moths who knew they were about to be pinioned.
All of this was watched over by sculptor Antony Gormley's nude, lead figures that are poised up on the roofs of the buildings. Adjuncts to Gormley's Blind Light exhibition currently on view inside the Hayward, they are blank-faced, indifferent sentinels surveying the melee below.
Stan Won't Dance was founded in 2003 by Rob Tannion and Liam Steel, both ex-members of DV8 Physical Theatre. Off the Wall was the culmination of their company's three-year residency on the Southbank. Over that time they have tried to push the boundaries of dance towards innovative physical theatre that often incorporates the popular tricks of radical circus. Their stated goal is to reach out beyond the usual dance aficionados to new audiences who are unlikely to ever attend a more orthodox performance.
The Sleeping Beauty is the pinnacle of orthodoxy. The high-water mark of Russian Imperial ballet, it should sweep audiences along in classical radiance. Milan's La Scala Ballet is back in London for the first time since 2001 with a week of Sleeping Beauty performances that end this afternoon. Staged by Rudolf Nureyev in 1966, this should be an unalloyed treat, but the current company isn't up to the challenge.
Those of us lucky enough to see it on either Thursday night or yesterday afternoon were treated to a guest performance starring Tamara Rojo, the Spanish ballerina who is one of the Royal Ballet's most popular artists. Rojo brought a freshness and sweet femininity to the role which helped lift this production on to a whole new plane.Reuse content