Tag Archives: dance

1980, A Piece by Pina Bausch at Sadler’s Wells

16 Feb

I just came back from Sadler’s Wells after watching a performance of ‘1980, A Piece by Pina Bausch’ and I am still not entirely sure what I feel about it.  Before tonight, all I knew was that Bausch was a famous German choreographer and I’d seen a clip of her choreography from the Spanish film, ‘Talk to her’ (‘Hable con ella’), which is probably my favourite Almodovar film.  And from that short clip, I was introduced to Bausch’s whimsical, highly emotionally charged contemporary dancing, so I was looking forward to lots of that tonight.

In that respect, then, I was disappointed.  There was very little ‘dance’ but had I read up on the performance, I would have been prepared for that so perhaps that disappointment is invalidated.  Instead, what I experienced was over three hours of a surreal exploration of the innocence of childhood and the strange superficiality of adulthood.  The stage became a meadow, complete with real grass and flies, and the actors/ dancers (it’s hard to know what they should be classed as) switched from children playing games to adults competing in beauty contests.


The performance had that strange combination of humour and lingering sadness, a kind of wistfulness or regret.  I enjoyed the acute observations on society, for instance, the numerous meaningless platitudes that adults dole out every day that serves to highlight how disconnected we are.  Even the explorations into childhood seem to be tinged with darkness, and the vision of fully grown adults acting as children is strangely peculiar. Then again, the adults acting as adults often do, can seem even more bizarre and comical at times, such as the sunbathing scene where everyone puts on a ridiculous display to catch some rays.

Although I did enjoy the performance, I didn’t love it.  I understand the need for repetition to emphasise the main themes in the piece but I think some of it was too drawn out and excessive, especially for a performance that is well over three hours long.  Also, a lot of the time, it seemed like the dancers were just walking slowly and sombrely around the stage, and at times I wanted to shake them into something more.  Yes, the soundtrack was great and atmospheric, but I felt that some parts of the piece relied more on the quality of the soundtrack rather than the content.  The actors/ dancers were amazing and it was obvious they were putting their heart and soul into the performance.  However, for me, too much of that performance required walking slowly around the stage and delivering repetitive monologues, some funny, some thought-provoking but some bordering on the pretentious.  A dreamlike experience that I found perceptive, confusing, comical, melancholic but ultimately very frustrating.  One thing’s for sure though – it’s definitely not to everyone’s taste and at the moment, I’m still trying to decide whether it might be to mine.


The Drowned Man: A Hollywood Fable by Punchdrunk

9 Oct

Yesterday I had my first experience of immersive theatre.  A couple of friends and I moseyed on down to the Temple Studios next to Paddington Station awash with excitement and anticipation.  I had read one vague review of the experience which didn’t really provide me with much information about what I should expect so I went wanting to be pleasantly surprised.  As we queued to store our bags in the cloakroom, we were given a double-sided leaflet with one story on each side.  Both stories were about two couples and in each couple, one member was unfaithful resulting in the person that had been cheated on to descend into madness, eventually murdering their unfaithful partner.  So far, so good.


We were led into a dark winding passageway and told not to talk, and then presented creepy white masks that we had to wear to allow us to distinguish between spectators and actors.  It’s a strange experience to stand in silence next to masked strangers in a lift and as the night progressed, it was interesting to see how the masks transformed us into instant voyeurs, watching the relationships disintegrate before us.  And some of the scenes were very intimate – at times, I looked around and felt I was standing in some strange sex cult…

What followed was three hours of watching and following snippets of action, mostly dancing as dialogue was limited, to try and piece fragments of stories together. The various floors were decorated differently – one was filled with caravans, a pub/ tavern thing, characters’ rooms; another resembled a desert, with sand dunes and creepy religious relics and you were free to wander everywhere and explore the entire set as you wished.  Soon enough, I got separated from my friends which was encouraged – and I began following different characters around, observing their stories.  I hadn’t realised just quite physical the process can be – if, like me, you want to follow the actors to trace the narrative, be warned, as they’re a speedy bunch. I found myself running up and down stairs, bumping into other masked spectators.

Having been given the leaflet detailing the story beforehand helped me understand the basis of the narrative but I must admit I was in a state of confusion for the majority of the experience. Being the cynic, logic-seeking person I am, I found myself trying to make sense of everything and halfway through the three hours, I took a detour to the vintage Hollywood bar, complete with glamorous singer belting out showtunes, and tried to make some sense of everything.  What I’ve since realised is that the narrative of the production is secondary to the intricacies of the set and the emotions that it evokes.  I found that difficult to accept as I am someone who is used to clear plot lines and this was so beyond anything I’d ever seen before, I found it hard to fully appreciate it.

Objectively, the studios are amazing to wander around in and I have since read reviews from people who preferred to explore histories of characters through exploring the set rather than running to follow the action.  The scale of the production is amazing and the physicality of the choreography is inspiring.  Regardless of confusion with the storylines (as there were at least two running in parallel), the themes were clear: infidelity, destruction, despair, reality, illusion, death.

Despite the weak narrative, which I found increasingly frustrating (there’s only so much running a girl can do in three hours and I felt sorry for the more senior members of the audience!), The Drowned Man pushes the boundaries of what is possible in theatre, providing a unique and atmospheric experience and an entertaining, if somewhat bewildering, evening.

West Side Story at Sadler’s Wells

12 Aug

I’d heard great things about this particular production which is why I went to see it on Saturday, having never seen the musical before.  All I knew was that it was based on Romeo and Juliet which, I thought, couldn’t be a bad thing.  I guess I was wrong.


The choreography was great, stylistic with an urban feel.  The setting also added to the atmosphere and the dancing was professional and adept.  However, I don’t know if it’s just me and I’m cynicism personified but I really really REALLY disliked the main characters.  That was weird to me as I’d never actively disliked Romeo and Juliet and Tony and Maria in the play are pretty much the same characters but I honestly found myself wishing they’d just hurry up and meet their end.

The reasons being that their characters seemed utterly lifeless and bland.  Limp, insipid one-dimensional characters whose sentimental gushings made me cringe rather than contemplate the beauty of love.  When Maria finds out that Tony has shot her brother, she doesn’t honestly seem to give a crap.  I don’t know if this was because of the acting in the production or the actual script but she just goes along with things – a passive, reactive puppet.  Also, at one point her friend, Anita -the one female character that was near to being fully developed -(and brother’s girlfriend) is gangraped (a move into VERY dark territory) by the Jets and this seems to be completely passed by.  All Tony and Maria can give a crap about is themselves.  They don’t seem interested in anything else or at least even aware or panicked about the chaos that surrounds them.  Maria’s half-hearted pleas to Tony to prevent the rumble from taking place were about as believable as the plotline of 50 Shades of Grey; she had absolutely no conviction in anything.

On a purely technical level, Maria’s voice was garbled and very difficult to understand, especially when she sang.  Most of the time it was just lots of warbling and vibrato but I couldn’t actually distinguish the lyrics.  Tony was better, clearer in his singing style.  Although his character had slightly more pizazz than Maria’s, I still didn’t particularly take to him and found his romantic sensibilities irritating.

I have concluded then that a significant reason why I enjoyed Romeo and Juliet was the language that Shakespeare used.  To illustrate my point…:

Juliet says:

“When he shall die,
Take him and cut him out in little stars,
And he will make the face of heaven so fine
That all the world will be in love with night
And pay no worship to the garish sun.”

whereas in West Side Story, Maria says:

‘I feel pretty, oh so pretty! I feel pretty, and witty, and gay!’

I mean, I get it.  It’s dialogue that’s right for the setting, the scene etc. but it’s not convincing, evocative or moving which it could have been, especially compared with Shakespeare’s language.

That and in the adaptations I have seen (Franco Zeffirelli’s and my favourite, Baz Luhrman’s), Juliet at least had a bit more attitude and charisma which made me empathise with her and Romeo (who admittedly, is a bit of a non-character but at least his declarations of love are lyrically beautiful).