The Best of London In Four Days

I was lucky to hit London town in time to see three amazing dance concerts, a rehearsal of a terrific cabaret act and two hallowed centers of dance.

First up was Woolf Works, Wayne McGregor’s new extravaganza for The Royal Ballet. Based on three of Virginia Woolf’s novels, it’s really an ode to Woolf, as well as an ode to the great dramatic ballerina Alessandra Ferri in the first and third sections. (For more about the ravishing Ferri in this work, click here.) The middle section is McGregor as we’ve come to know him: wild partnering, innovative lighting and extravagantly contemporary sets. He succeeded in producing a stark and startling ballet that challenges the dancers, and also succeeding in puzzling viewers who expected a linear plotline. Luckily, I had read Dance Magazine’s interview with him in which he says that a linear story is “not the only way you can deal with complex emotional situations or multiple narratives. I thought this was a good moment to flex the opera house’s muscles in a new way.” The pristinely beautiful Royal Opera House has probably been getting a good flex from McGregor since he made Chroma there in 2006.

I saw two Sadler’s Wells productions that were dead opposites, each satisfying in its own way: Partita 2 and Titanium. The first, a collaboration between Anne Teresa De Keersmaeker, Boris Charmatz and violinist Amandine Beyer, was dry in tone but completely involving. Without any shred of story to keep track of, I paid alert attention to Bach’s notes on the violin, the artfully deployed cracks of light and how inventively De Keersmaeker and Charmatz recycled their phrases and gestures.

The second, Titanium, was a boisterous production at the Peacock Theatre that melds hip-hop, flamenco and acrobatic break dancing. An all-male group from Spain, it included nine dancers and four musicians—though the musicians were sometimes drowned out by a cheesy sound design of amplified growls and reverse booming. The macho taunting and sparring eventually morphed into camaraderie, and finally into a display of technical fireworks like head spins and crazy fast heel work. The audience went wild, making me think this production could go the commercial route of Riverdance.

I was able to visit the Royal Ballet School and observe master teacher Anita Young’s loving yet strict instruction of a girls’ class. The training is very reverential, and they were asked to give this visitor (me) a formal reverence even before class started. At the barre, Young corrected the head positions, telling the girls that Sir Frederick Ashton always wanted a softly titled head, never a flat-out profile. In center, she emphasized musicality, femininity and movement quality. When doing tendues, she told them to use pressure through space, saying "It's not just dry bones." I also got to see a rehearsal of the advanced students in Christopher Wheeldon’s tricky Rush, which they had  performed so well in NYC in a shared program with ABT’s Studio Company last month.

At The Place, London’s hub of contemporary dance, the director and choreographer Richard Alston along with chief executive Kenneth Olumuyiwa Tharp took me around to see some of the 11 studios, cafeteria and rehab room. Apparently it’s similar in training to NYU’s Tisch School of the Arts dance program. Alston’s excellent company is in residence there, so I was treated to a viewing of a rehearsal of his piece Nomadic, with gypsy music pulling the dancers into dynamic torso movement and joyous momentum. (See our “Choreography in Focus” with Alston here.)

One of the Joffrey Ballet’s star dancers of an earlier time and a beloved teacher at Steps on Broadway, Christian Holder now lives in London. He invited me to a run-through of his cabaret act, "At Home and Abroad." It was pure magic, and if any of you are in London June 5 and 6, I urge you to catch it at Crazy Coqs. Christian is a naturally theatrical creature, and his exuberant soul bursts through his singing, storytelling and bits of dance. Hearing about his life as a dancer/designer/choreographer is an education, and watching him reminisce is a lovely entertainment.



From top: Ferri and Bonelli in Woolf Works, by Tristram Kenton. Wendy Perron at The Place, by Kenneth Tharp.

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