Showing posts with label Ballet. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Ballet. Show all posts

Saturday, September 22, 2007

Some of my favourite men wear tights

The Guardian today runs an extract from the autobiography of Carlos Acosta (picture above shows him without said credit by Tristam Kenton, from The Guardian).

When the news reached my father's ears that I was running around the streets with gangs, he said to my mother, "We have to do something, Maria, otherwise we're going to lose the boy." Our neighbour Candida, whose nephew was one of the principal dancers with the Cuban National Ballet, had a suggestion: "You say he likes dancing? Why don't you send him to ballet school?"

My father's eyes lit up. Ballet! Suddenly there was hope. I was only nine, but I still remember that day when my parents told me their plans.

"What's everyone in the neighbourhood going to think? They'll say I'm gay!"

"Listen, you're my son and the son of the tiger shares his father's stripes. If anyone calls you gay, just smash his face in, then pull down your trousers and show him what you've got between your legs."

"But Papito, I want to be a footballer."

"Your mother and I have made up our minds, and that's that. It's your future, my boy!"

Meanwhile I have a hot date with my tv tonight: special documentary Nureyev: From Russia with love on BBC2 at 9.30. Watch clips here. And BBC4, the digital channel, is showing the Fonteyn & Nureyev film of Kenneth MacMillan's Romeo and Juliet immediately afterwards. Is Acosta the closest thing we have now to Nureyev? I reckon so...

Nureyev, for a while, had a house about ten minutes walk from where we live. Sometimes I stare over the wooden gate towards the door that was once his, trying to imagine a creature as self-willed and wild as that living somewhere as ridiculously bourgeois and uneventful as this suburb. Not that he stayed long. One biography tells the story that he decided to move after an occasion when he left late for a performance at Covent Garden and jumped on the District Line at East Putney in the wrong direction.

Saturday, April 14, 2007

Mayerling, yet again


Went to Mayerling at Covent Garden last night, starring the one and only Carlos Acosta as the crazed Crown Prince Rudolf of the Austro-Hungarian Empire (pic above not from this ballet, but hey...). Feel teh power. It's not just the jump, the stage presence, the technique, the body - this guy can convey character through movement with one gesture, the dissolution of a whole psyche in a single step. His Mary Vetsera was Leanne Benjamin, transforming from ditzy 17-year-old to breathtaking sexpot in the flash of a toe, her limbs as free as flames. Supporting roles - surely as demanding as any lead - included more of the Royal Ballet's finest, Mara Galeazzi, Gemma Bond, Zenaida Yanowsky and plenty others. The only weak spot was the orchestra, which had a bit of an off-night, but let's forgive them this once.

I wonder if Mayerling is deliberately a twisted inversion of The Sleeping Beauty? Instead of awakening the heroine, the prince kills her and himself. He's led to her by another woman - this Lilac Fairy is his ex-mistress. The Rose Adagio? No, the Mephisto Waltz: stunning choreography for sought-after woman - a prostitute - and four lovers. The Wedding pas de deux at the end of Act I is effectively a rape, in which the woman is horrifically complicit, and features a fish-dive pose. The young girl grows up - Mary is a child with her hair in ribbons at the beginning - but her fulfillment is a suicide pact. The King and Queen - Emperor and Empress - are at it too, both with lovers attendant. There's a hunting which the prince accidentally kills a member of the court. The opening scene is called 'prologue', and it's not a christening but a funeral.

When Mayerling was first performed, back (if I remember right) in the 1980s, it got a lot of stick from the critics. Too many characters - how do you keep track of all Rudolf's women?! [you read the story]. You can't convey in dance that Countess Larisch is his ex-mistress! [you can, very effectively]. What are those Hungarians doing, whispering in Rudolf's ear? You can't do separatist politics in dance! [never mind the whispering, watch 'em dance!] And all those prostitutes parading their wares, yeuk! [ref Schiele, with Mitzi Caspar looking fresh out of Klimt?]. What a very nasty story! [so's Romeo and Juliet]. Twenty-five years on, or thereabouts, this ballet is clearly one of Kenneth MacMillan's masterpieces.

Wednesday, March 31, 2004

Mayerling. Twice.

As a teenager, I used to be a ballet nut and now - after a long gap - I've resumed. Discovering a few friends who are also ballet nuts is a help - one of my more depressing experiences was watching my husband nod off quietly while Alina Cojocaru performed the Rose Adage, and discovering afterwards that he didn't know the story of The Sleeping Beauty. Upshot is I've been to see 'Mayerling' twice in two weeks.

'Mayerling', based on the true story of Prince Rudolf, heir to the Hapsburg empire, and his suicide pact with his teenaged mistress Mary Vetsera at the Mayerling hunting lodge, is real dance theatre. It achieves theatrical coups that you might not think ballet could deal with - the subtle (and less subtle) relationship between Rudolf and his ex-girlfriend; the frightening cross-currents in the various pas de deux (on his wedding night, after he has terrified his bride Stephanie with his favourite foreplay toys, a pistol and a skull, why does she still run after him and fling herself, literally, around his shoulders?); and ultimately the meeting of soulmates, even if those soulmates are people that most of us wouldn't want to go within 100 miles of. It makes you care passionately about the most unappealing of all possible characters, and cry when they kill each other. How does Kenneth MacMillan do it?

MacMillan was nothing short of a choreographic genius, but the answer - in part - has also got to be the music: Liszt, patchworked together by the expert arranger John Lanchbery. The late Lanchbery was a one-off. He made numerous arrangements for Frederick Ashton: La fille mal gardée, The Tales of Beatrix Potter, A Month in the Country and more. For 'Mayerling', he carefully selected, orchestrated and tailored to MacMillan's needs a tremendous range of Liszt - we spotted Soirees de Vienne, the Faust Symphony, Vallee d'Obermann, Funerailles, Chasse-neige, Harmonies du Soire, Paysage, a Valse oubliee, the Mephisto Waltz (brilliantly used in the tavern scene) and much more. Liszt was an inspired choice of composer - apart from the fact that he knew and performed to this whole bunch of mad, ghastly Hapsburgs, his music can steep you in romanticism and make you suspend your early 21st-century ironic detachment like nobody except possibly his son-in-law Wagner. Lanchbery is an undersung musical hero and deserves a standing ovation in his own right.

'Mayerling' is a powerful, at times devastating evening out - frighteningly exhilarating and cathartic - and I can't recommend it highly enough. Book online at the Royal Opera House link left.

PS - Delighted to find a Comment posting from harpist Helen Radice, a fellow classical music blogger. If you enjoyed the post about musicians' mad travel schedules, try hers - you ain't seen nothing yet! Link on the left.