Archive for the ‘dance’ Category

It has been a rich year in the arts in Scotland, although the  exceptional has remained elusive.

23 plays seen.    In Perth, the year kicked off with an excellent adaptation of Tam O Shanter, and took in the tour of Be Near Me.    With a good cast, Silver Darlings promised much but never quite produced a sum of its parts, which was a disappointment.       In Glasgow, at the Citizens, we enjoyed Ghosts, and a pre-Edinburgh festival production of a Rona Munro’s new play The Last Witch.   At the Tron, we liked That Face, and White Tea.    In Edinburgh, Gregory Burke’s latest play Hoors was not a patch on Black Watch, or Gagarin Way, but we liked The Dark Things a lot.     National Theatre of Scotland’s big autumn production of House of Bernara Alba was interesting, but just did not quite work.   For consistently good theatre in Scotland, Dundee Rep is punching way above its weight exemplified by a really excellent Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf ? which gets my best of the year vote.     There was also a very good production of The Elephant Man, directed by Jemima Levick  – the incoming assistant director, who also directed a touring production of Baby Baby (seen at Macrobert), which was enjoyable, but had rather weak material.   Dundee also put on a really special version of  A Christmas Carol.   Nationally, we enjoyed Ken Stott in a View from the Bridge when it came to Glasgow, Theatre de Complicite’s Shun Kin at the Barbican in London, and Inherit the Wind at the Old Vic.       We missed Sub Rosa, at the Citizens which was a pity.   

9 Operas.    RSAMD opera school continued to entertain with The Love of Three Oranges and the Tales of Hoffman.   Scottish Opera produced another set of five fifteen minute operas at Oran Mor, and will have a third set in May 2010.    Main house, Scottish Opera has had a good season with solid productions of Cosi, Manon, the Elixir of Love, and the Italian Girl in Algiers.    Concert performances of operas don’t do it for me usually, but there was a one performance only of I Puritani at Glasgow City Hall, which was outstanding.    We enjoyed the new opera Letters of a Love Betrayed which had one performance at The Traverse.

We have been to quite a few Youth Orchestra Concerts this year, which we have enjoyed.   The Scottish Ensemble continue to tour with well thought out programmes and general excellence.   In Perth, we heard Theatre of Voices with Bang on a Can playing Steve Reich pieces and David Lang’s co-comissioned (Perth Concert Hall with Carnegie Hall in New York) Little Match Girl Passion.     But outstanding performance of 2009  was actually caught on holiday in Krakow where the Wroclaw Symphony Orchestra played a stunning Mahler 9.

We did not get to much by way of dance this year, but enjoyed Michael Marra and Frank McConnell’s Wee Home from Home – first performed 20 years ago , and revived by original director Gerry Mulgrew with new designs by Karen Tennant.

2009 was a memorable year for film, and we liked the genuinely unusual Slumdog Millionaire, the quirky 35 Shots of Rum, Katalin Varga’s smouldering revenge, Jane Campion’s Bright Star, Cannes winner White Ribbon, Andrea Arnold’s Fish Tank, and even Opera on the big screenCosi fan Tutti (Salzberg festival production).      I was less sure about Moon, the sci-fi film from Duncan Jones (David Bowie’s son).   An Education and Let The Right One In were special highlights.

We visted the Anish Kapoor exhibition in London – great dods of bright red wax being fired out of a cannon every 20 minutes  into a corner of a room – lots of other stuff too.   Highly entertaining.

2010 has some interesting things ‘coming soon’, and the New Year’s resolution is to write about them here in more detail.

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The Soldier’s Tale

We were really excited about The Soldier’s Tale by Stravinsky at the Tron in Glasgow, and were not disappointed.    

The Tale is a straightforward Russian folktale about a soldier who makes a pact with the devil and and who discovers that riches alone don’t bring the happiness that love brings.    You would think that once he discovered that, he and his Princess (this is a folktale) would live happily ever after, but Stravinsky does not let it lie there, and the piece ends darkly.

Written towards the end of the First World War, Stravinsky scored the work for a tiny orchestra of 7 players and four actors, who normally tell the tale.     But in this version, the Soldier was played by top violinist Anthony Marwood, assisted by two dancers:  Agnes Vandrepote as the Princess and Iain Woodhouse as the Devil, with Walter Van Dyk playing the Narrator.

It was in the way all the separate parts came together that made this a wonderful evening to remember.    The orchestra from the Academy of St Martin in the Fields were led by Jonathan Morton who also leads the Scottish Ensemble, and I realised at the end that hiding in the back was Alison Balsom, the award winning trumpet player – no wonder they were simply excellent.

The orchestration was unusual:   Violin, Double Bass, Clarinet, Trumpet, Trombone, Bassoon and percussion.   the music was thrilling and ranged from folk dances to chorale – it was complicated but perfectly accessible, and really suited the subject.    In the wedding scene, there was a hymn tune – it was all there, but in shattered bits.    This was written in 1918 after all.

But Anthony Marwood’s performance was breathtaking:   not only was his violin playing stunningly good, particularly when he and his Princess have a long awakening dance, but his acting was mesmerising to watch.    He went from innocent delight to crumpled and broken in an instant.   He kissed his Princess towards the end, and was elated, but as his face came over her shoulder it turned to a haunted man as he realised the full implications of returning to his home.     The ending was dark – with all but the Princess following the devil out and across the back of the set.   This also included the barefooted orchestra who left one by one and formed a memorable closing tableau in red silhouette with their instruments.

We were in the front row and felt the wind from the dancers as they passed by, and also got covered in confetti.    We had two 16 year olds with us who were seriously impressed.    

This performance was so mesmerising that at successive curtain calls (there were deservedly three) the applause increased each time and we finally got cheering and whistling as we all realised that we had just witnessed something really special.   

I  recommended this production to Statler and Waldorf over at View From the Stalls, perhaps with a little trepidation as classical music is a little off their radar, but am delighted to report that they really enjoyed it.

Only an hour long, and completely haunting.    Still time to catch it on the short UK tour.   

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