Showing posts with label Little Angel Theatre. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Little Angel Theatre. Show all posts

Friday, November 16, 2012

Who is this Petrushka anyway?


Puppet or dancer? Entertainer or symbol? If the latter, symbol of what? The premiere of the multi-media Petrushka in Wimbledon the other night, which I previewed here, was an evening to remember.

For pianist Mikhail Rudy it's the culmination of years of dreaming and planning. It began when he took Stravinsky's own Three Dances from Petrushka (piano arrangements made for Rubinstein, who never played them, apparently - too difficult, the story goes...) and set about transcribing the rest of the complete ballet score himself, with lurking visions of what could one day be done with it in terms of visual interpretation. Micha writes of a childhood impression of a puppet show:
"I could tell that behind the curtain there was an unsettling human form, which made my heart thump. I called him The Great Puppeteer. Invested with an extraordinary power, he was able to breathe life into his creations, to make them dance and laugh, or fall in love, but, at his least whim, he could melt them down at will into a spoon, like a character from Peer Gynt, or cut off their heads as if they were poor Petrushka. I was hypnotized by his limitless power, and I identified with his creatures. Were my emotions real or imaginary? I'm still looking for the answer."
"In the little theatre where the drama of Petrushka and the Ballerina is played out, one piece of wood – the piano – brings to life other pieces of wood, at the behest of a magician in a black suit. Perhaps one should play Petrushka in a top hat, surrounded by white rabbits and ladies sawn in half whose reflections keep on multiplying in mirrors… The piano giving the illusion of an orchestra, which in turn gives the illusion of marionettes, who in turn make us believe in human feelings."
Now, realised as a multi-media film by IWMF director Anthony Wilkinson, with dancers from Rambert and Matthew Bourne's New Adventures and absolutely mesmerising puppetry from the Little Angel Theatre, the Petrushka project presents Micha with an almighty challenge: playing this plethora of colourful fairground activity, inner anguish, mechanistic irony and mystical symbolism is quite tough enough without having to coordinate one's every movement with a movie. The result? It works its magic from first snowflake-drenched moment to last.

The puppeteer sees his own impish, teasing, rebellious creation achieve acrobatic wonders, undergo very human suffering, and ultimately elude him altogether. The poor puppet's head is unscrewed, his sawdust emptied on the ground, his carcas left in a cardboard box - only to reappear beyond grasp, argumentative as ever, a spirit in his own right that can never be destroyed.

Micha is aligned at once with the puppeteer/magician, wearing the turquoise and gold cloak of the character throughout his performance (but no top hat, rabbits or sawn-in-two females...). The pianist is the puppeteer; the piano is the puppet. And it escapes. The spirit of art and of creativity is something we think is ours and that we can control. But maybe, instead, it is this spirit that comes to control us. It's more than we think it is: independent, elusive, immutable.

Despite a lifetime of familiarity with Petrushka's music, story, choreography and concept, this dazzling mingling of artforms in a quiet Wimbledon sidestreet was the first time the work truly made sense to me at its deeper level. Bravo Micha, bravo Anthony and bravi bravissimi Little Angels.

Wednesday, November 07, 2012

Aces ahoy at Wimbledon

Amid sighs of relief and big cheers for President Obama, back home in Blighty the countdown to the International Wimbledon Music Festival has begun. Coins have been tossed, warm-ups enacted, the end of the court selected, Federer is set to play Murr...oh, well, maybe not yet... Actually, Roger Federer (pictured right) is rumoured to be a major enthusiast for classical music. But even without him, there are some aces to be served in SW19 in the weeks ahead. Because we have here a festival director, Anthony Wilkinson, who's determined to move heaven, earth and a lot of amazing people to transform south-west London into a magnet for marvellous music-making.

Now, there's some amazing news about my play A Walk Through the End of Time, concerning Messiaen's Quartet for the End of Time, the festival's performance of which at the Orange Tree Theatre, Richmond, has been sold out for weeks. (Article about it from the Independent, here.) It seems that such is the demand for tickets that they have decided to offer another performance, later the same afternoon! It will start at 5.15pm. We are immensely grateful to Henry Goodman and Harriet Walter for agreeing to do this, and to Anita Lasker-Wallfisch too. Box office: 020 8940 3633. Website is here - if the extra show isn't on it yet, just call the box office and ask to be put on the waiting list for tickets.... Here's Anthony announcing the glad tidings last night:



The play is in seriously good company. The festival kicks off on Saturday 10 November with a glorious Purcell jamboree starring Susan Bickley, Robin Blaze, Njabulo Madlala, James Bowman and Malin Christensson. And it's beginning as it means to go on, because every concert is a highlight in its own right. Catch the Messiaen Quartet for the End of Time itself the night after the play in the expert hands of the Nash Ensemble; thrill to the wonders of Christine Brewer singing Strauss and Wagner (yes, in Wimbledon!); enjoy celebrity recitals by violinist Alina Ibragimova and her family, as well as cellist Zuill Bailey and starry young guitarist Xuefei Yang; and absolutely don't miss Piers Lane and Patricia Routledge in Admission: One Shilling, the story of Dame Myra Hess and the National Gallery Concerts in the Blitz. Twenty-three events in all, and the whole lot are world class. Here's the full programme, so have a browse and book soon.

Perhaps the most exciting, though, is the Petrushka project, specially created by the IWMF with the pianist Mikhail Rudy. "Micha" is one of the last of the true old-school Russian artists, having trained at the Moscow Conservatoire with Jakob Flier and subsequently defected with a flood of international attention, to say nothing of some brushes with the KGB, in 1977. His autobiography (left) is fascinating, and reading it is excellent for polishing your French. In recent years Micha has taken in a big way to multimedia projects - I've already reported extensively on his marvellous theatre version of Spilman's memoirs in The Pianist (soon to return to Britain, we understand) and the beautiful animated Kandinsky film for Mussorgsky's Pictures at an Exhibition, which he brought to Wimbledon last year.

Petrushka goes even further. Some years ago, Micha took the three pieces from the Stravinsky score than already exist in transcription for piano solo, and set about transcribing the rest of the work. Now he, Anthony Wilkinson, choreographer Claire Sibley and the Little Angel Theatre have collaborated to bring together all the elements that feature in the original concept of Petrushka: live music, ballet and puppetry. I've had a sneak preview of the entire film, produced and directed by Anthony, and can bring you an extract, below - and there is some truly extraordinary stuff in it. I will never understand the magic by which expert puppeteers can appear to infuse a piece of wood and string with actual life - and that magic, of course, is what Petrushka is all about. See it on 14 November.



On the night, Micha performs the music live to the film. The costumes, incidentally, are designed by students of the Wimbledon College of Art. And the whole thing was made possible by a grant from the Arts Council England, the Lottery Fund, the Tertis Foundation and a donation from Mr and Mrs Kutsenko. This Wimbledon performance should be the first of many, as the plan is to tour this project nationally, and internationally too.

Next step? What about a world-class concert hall for Wimbledon? I'm not joking. Watch this space.