Thursday, 7 December 2017

Australian Ballet's Sleeping Beauty

The Australian Ballet’s ‘The Sleeping Beauty’ is lavish and beautifully danced

The Australian Ballet in 'The Sleeping Beauty'. Photo by Daniel Boud.

Capitol Theatre, Sydney.
20 November 2017.
Currently showing at the Capitol Theatre is The Australian Ballet in a revival of David McAllister’s version of The Sleeping Beauty, which we first saw in 2015. It has been minimally tightened and tweaked.
The story follows the traditional fairytale plot: Princess Aurora is born and at her christening is endowed with gifts from the fairies and cursed by the bad fairy Carabosse with death by pricking her finger when she is 16 in revenge for not being invited. However, the Lilac Fairy commutes the death sentence to a century of sleep and declares that all will eventually be well – Aurora will eventually awake to true love by a kiss from a Prince and will live happily ever after.
The Australian Ballet in 'The Sleeping Beauty'. Photo by Daniel Boud.
The Australian Ballet in ‘The Sleeping Beauty’. Photo by Daniel Boud.
It is an extremely opulent and lavishly presented work, featuring 300 bespoke costumes, 100 wigs and hats, and 130 pairs of fairy wings. Altogether, it is rumoured to have needed 5,000 metres of tulle, and they are full of intricate layers and detailing. Whether you like and/or admire designer Gabriela Tylesova’s costumes is probably a matter of personal taste. I was a little disappointed perhaps in some of the colour choices and overly fussy designs at times, and sometimes the clarity of the dancers’ line was broken, but I can certainly appreciate the extraordinary attention to detail in the construction and design.
Technically, the dancing is outstanding, and I saw Leanne Stojmenov as Aurora, who was breathtaking. McAllister’s choreography is very traditional and heavily based in the style of Petipa where necessary, and the intricate patterns for the nymphs, fairies, friends and the Garland Waltz, for example, are fascinating and meticulously performed. The fairy solos can be quite challenging but were terrifically danced. The cavalier’s choreography was a splendid showcase for the male dancers. The four princes in the Rose Adage were formidably danced. The mime was clear and understandable.
The setting was 17th century France in a palace inspired by Versailles, with soft pastel shades blending with gold and cream and bright reds. The supporting marble columns of white and gold look like ice cream swirls (or perhaps narwhal spirals?). There is a wonderful carved and painted front set instead of a curtain, and the spectacular chandeliers rising at the start of Act 3 received a round of applause.
The Australian Ballet's Kevin Jackson and Lana Jones in 'The Sleeping Beauty'. Photo by Daniel Boud.
The Australian Ballet’s Kevin Jackson and Lana Jones in ‘The Sleeping Beauty’. Photo by Daniel Boud.
The overdone use of pink and green in Act 1 for the Garland Waltz was way too saccharine for my taste, nearly causing you to die of visual sugar overload.
I was perhaps a little bothered by the key symbolism and the casket, Fabergé egg-shaped, with a bed of roses that Aurora sleeps on.
Our Aurora, Stojmenov, was magnificent. In the Rose Adagio in Act 1, she was incredible, with amazing steely control in the balances. She was charming and yet regal with magnificent, fluid épaulement and glorious slow unfolding of her développés. In the grand pas de deux in the final act, she was radiant, and the tricky fish dives were glittering and spectacular.
Ty King Wall as Prince Desire was excellent with fabulous ballon, soft jumps and lots of elegant cabrioles, jetés and turns.
As the Lilac Fairy, Nicola Curry was tremendous, a messenger of calmness, sweetness and light in some dangerous situations. Yet she also has hidden authoritative power.
Franco Leo has much fun as the busy, fussy Catabalutte. As Carabosse, Gillian Revie was malignantly evil in a wonderfully feathery black outfit. She seeks revenge for being slighted and not invited to the christening. Her attendant mice leap and slither menacingly – shades of Graeme Murphy’s Nutcracker?
The Australian Ballet's Jade Wood and Marcus Morelli in 'The Sleeping Beauty'. Photo by Daniel Boud.
The Australian Ballet’s Jade Wood and Marcus Morelli in ‘The Sleeping Beauty’. Photo by Daniel Boud.
Watch out for the Bluebird pas de deux in Act 3 – I saw Shaun Andrews and Jade Wood, who were quite eye-catching.
Tchaikovsky’s glorious music, here elegantly played by the Opera Australia Orchestra, as conducted by maestro Philip Ellis, while extremely familiar sounded fresh and dynamic
It would be an enchanting work to take young children to. The ones in the audience the night I attended loved it. The work concludes in full Baroque splendour in gold and white as Aurora and Prince Desire are united with a shower of gold confetti.
By Lynne Lancaster of Dance Informa.

Bangarra's One's Country

Bangarra Dance Theatre’s powerful ‘ONES COUNTRY: the spine of our stories’

Bangarra Dance Ensemble in 'Ngathu'. Photo by Daniel Boud.

Carriageworks, Sydney.
24 November 2017.
A most exciting triple bill by Bangarra Dance Theatre, three world premieres combined under the umbrella title of ONE’S COUNTRY, taking us from North East Arnhem Land’s red dust, to the waters of the Torres Strait Islands – home of the salt-water creature, the Dugong – to Indigenous urban life looking at gender challenges and the human spirit. This is the second time Bangarra has performed at Sydney’s Carriageworks. The trademark Bangarra style is evident with the blend of traditional Aboriginal/Torres Strait Islander dance and contemporary.
Beau Dean Riley Smith in 'Ngathu'. Photo by Daniel Boud.
Beau Dean Riley Smith in ‘Ngathu’. Photo by Daniel Boud.
One set was used for all three works – a large, hanging sculpturally textured mass of fishing nets, branches and leaves on the back wall, most atmospherically lit at times by Matt Cox
The first work was Ngathu by Djakapurra Munyarryun, a respected Yolngu songman from Dhalinybuy in North East Arnhem Land who has worked in many Bangarra productions as a dancer, musician, singer and cultural consultant. It is inspired by the ngathu (cycad) nut, which only appears for a fleeting moment before the wet season. We see the dancers – the women in red costumes, the men in black – with traditional red eye makeup, travelling to the harvest, gathering and sorting the nut and finally roasting it over coals as the wet finally arrives.
Deborah Brown and Yolanda Lowatta in 'Ngathu'. Photo by Daniel Boud.
Deborah Brown and Yolanda Lowatta in ‘Ngathu’. Photo by Daniel Boud.
Ngathu opens with a dreamlike sequence of two women materialising from behind the set who carry a wooden bowl and collect their dilly bags from the floor. This work was the one that had the most obviously traditional first people’s choreography. It included pulsating traditional music with didgeridoo. Choreographically, one moment it was contemporary with slithery floorwork and rolling turns, almost breakdancing at times, and then it became the traditional dances with emphatic foot stamps, circular walks, fast furious low jumps and arms held low and crossed. 
The second, fabulously danced, work was Place by dancer Kaine Sultan-Babij. This is his first choreographic work for Bangarra. Grounded by his clan, his heritage and his family totem of the caterpillar, we are transported to the concrete jungle of an urban Australian setting, drawing on his personal experience to explore what it means to be black and gay in today’s world – while he is supported by family, yet there is a huge aura of loneliness as a young black gay man.
Leonard Mickelo in 'Place'. Photo by Daniel Boud.
Leonard Mickelo in ‘Place’. Photo by Daniel Boud.
There are several fences used both as a barre and as barriers. At one point, some of them have coldly futuristic strips of  fluorescent lighting. The opening is very contemporary in style with the six dancers in black struggling to break through the barriers. The choreography for the piece was quite demanding and requires a very flexible back. There is lots of rolling, slithery, undulating floorwork and also headstands! At one  point, there is an aura as if the ensemble is mistily wheeling or floating. Two highlights include a sensational duo for Tyrel Dulvarie and Yolanda Lowatta, which is sinuous and delicate with some striking lifts. And the final mesmerizing solo for Leonard Mickelo, who was hypnotic, full of fluid, inky pantherine movement in space on, around and over the barrier.
Elma Kris and Nicola Sabatino in 'Whistler'. Photo by Daniel Boud.
Elma Kris and Nicola Sabatino in ‘Whistler’. Photo by Daniel Boud.
The final work was Whistler, a story inspired by the sacred call of the dugong and its significance to their people, created by Bangarra dancers and proud Torres Strait Islander women Elma Kris and Nicola Sabatino. For some of the work, the dancers gracefully slide and pull themselves around on their hands, with their legs dragging behind them, with aquatic behaviour. Dugongs are generally regarded as rather strange looking creatures, with large heads, cumbersome paddle-like flippers and a cumbersome way of sauntering through the water. But in Whistler, we see them with rare dignity and grace. They writhe sculpturally, play; they slither over and under each other, and they roll around in the chalk dust of the stage enchantingly. Are they dugongs, as we are informed in the program? Or mermaids? Or seals? At one point, they undulate and pulsate like coral; at another, they are fluid and darting. There are some very demanding lifts in a striking, sinuous pas de deux. The men have some wonderfully spiny textured headdresses, the women long, high blonde headdresses. Yolanda Lowatta and Beau Dean Riley Smith have a delightfully energetic duo.
The final rousing ensemble was a return to traditional First Peoples songs and dances.
By Lynne Lancaster of Dance Informa.

PIncgut Coronation of Poppea



Pinchgut's updating is thought provoking and vocally superb.
Coronation of Poppea
Image: Image: Pinchgut Opera's Coronation Of Poppea. Photo by Brett Boardman.
This is one of those productions that will strongly divide audiences and critics. While musically and vocally it’s absolutely superb, for me the updating of the narrative to reflect contemporary times doesn’t quite work. Some people absolutely loved it – others like me loved the music but were most disappointed in the staging.
Erin Helyard and the Orchestra of the Antipodes played Monteverdi’s exquisitely celestial music superbly and the singing was ravishing with fine ensemble work by all.
The set design by Charles Davis, of light, elegant grey spaces (which could also perhaps be a dangerous grungy concrete underpass or other section of the city) was terrific and flexible for all the scene changes as required.
The production of Coronation of Poppea is celebrating 450 years since the birth of Monteverdi, set in the decadent court of Ancient Rome. A story about the abuse of power cloaked in the name of love, The Coronation of Poppea, one of the first operas to have been based on historical figures, traces the scandalous liaison between scheming ambitious vulgar courtesan Poppea Sabina, and the madman and murderer Emperor Nero.
The story breaks from traditional literary and theatrical morality, as greed is rewarded while virtue ignored and punished. Nero and Poppea leave a trail of anguish and death in their wake as they stop at nothing to be together. In this updated version there is use of mobile phones, drug trafficking and digital cameras, and Nero and his gang of thuggish henchmen are portrayed as sinister tattooed heavies. The gods themselves (Virtue, Fortune, Love etc.) are portrayed as homeless, and able to invisibly maneuver in the same space as humans because they are the forgotten and ignored. The opening is disturbing and brutal – Arnalta (Kanen Breen) is violently attacked by Nero’s thuggish henchmen.
Helen Sherman has a commanding stage presence as the rather vulgar and blowsy at times, scheming and ruthlessly ambitious Poppea. She excellently reveals the many layers of her complex character. Her expressive voice soars in a powerful, sweeping wide range. It is hinted that eventually Poppea too, no matter how manipulative and beautiful, will be rejected by Nero.
Blonde, tattooed, coke-snorting Nero was impressively sung by counter-tenor Jake Arditti. Casually cruel and uncaring, impulsive and debauched – surrendering to his appetites – he is madly violent one moment, blinded by lust the next. He is a dangerous ruler high on power and seemingly unaware of how Poppea manipulates him.
Kanen Breen as Arnalta was terrific. At first rather startling, he stalks the stage in six-inch, knee-high patent leather lace-up boots. He gave real emotional expressiveness to Arnalta, trying to provide good worldly advice to Poppea as a stalwart friend – the act II lullaby was beautifully phrased.  
David Greco as Seneca displayed his captivating, charismatic baritone (in this production he wears a white suit with a Hawaiian shirt and boat shoes) and acts discreetly as a drug dealer. In this production, the thoughtful philosopher turned advisor and guru becomes an amplification of the extension of the tediousness of the decaying glamour of Rome. His death is shocking and callous. (Murdered in the bath by Nero’s thugs – much like the Duke of Clarence in Richard III, not how it’s normally done in a relatively peaceful departure as is the noble Roman way.)
Handsome Owen Willets’ Ottone was in by turns lovesick, groveling, noble, powerful and forced to unwillingly follow the empress Ottavia’s orders. He sang with a splendidly rich warm tone.
Natalie Christie Peluso was tremendous both as the glamorous scheming vengeful Empress Ottavia and the sincere, loving Drusilla (she also portrayed Virtù in the opera’s prologue). As Ottavia she is vindictive, exposed and somewhat repellent at times in her rage. As Drusilla captivated by Ottone she was charming and noble, strong in the last duet with the unfortunate Ottone. Controlling everything as a fiery, robust yet diminutive and turbulent Amore, Roberta Diamond’s lucid, flowing soprano was tremendous.
Coronation of Poppea concludes with the famous duet 'Pur ti miro' for Poppea and Nero. Musically superb with a very thought provoking staging.
3½ stars out of 5
Monteverdi's Coronation of Poppea
Pinchgut Opera
Helen Sherman | Poppea     
Jake Arditti | Nero Natalie
Christie Peluso | Ottavia, Drusilla
Roberta Diamond | Amore
Owen Willetts | Ottone 
Kanen Breen | Arnalta
Adam Player | Soldato I, Famigliari II
Jacob Lawrence | Soldato II, Liberto, Console
David Greco | Seneca
Jeremy Kleeman | Famigliari III,  Tribuno
Troy Honeysett |  Actor
Govinda Röser |  Actor        
Orchestra of the Antipodes
Erin Helyard Conductor
Mark Gaal Director
Charles Davis Designer
Ross Graham Lighting Designer
Troy Honeysett Assistant Director
City Recital Hall 
30 November - 6 December 2017

NT Live Peter Pan


Bold , striking and original this is a sensational reworking of JM Barrie’s PETER PAN as part of the NT Live series .It was a co-production with the Bristol Old Vic , as directed by Sally Cookson. It is enchanting and is at times childlike and playful, vibrant and colourful, at others quite melancholy ,or dark and sinister . The ending is extremely moving . There is a haunting sense of loss and of the wearing away of innocence. 
It is not a ‘traditional ‘ panto version , rather it has an exuberant athletic circus feel at times and yes the flying is spectacular ( with ‘fairy strings’ to help) . Michael Vales’ relatively sparse , simple staging in the early stages of the show – a bed and a stepladder are the only on-stage furniture in the first scene in the bedroom of the Darling family home –becomes more complex and detailed as the play progresses. The fact that the counter weights and ‘fairy strings’ are visible does not discount in any way from the magic. Peter’s missing shadow is an ingeniously cut green sheet.
There is effective use of the revolve . Neverland becomes a colourful paint spattered circus like playing area where various props can be slid in/out/used and the arrival of the pirate ship from the depths was a most spectacular coup de theatre and the crocodile ( sort of an alien corrugated pointy vacuum cleaner with glowing red eyes ) is quite scary .
When the Darling children fly off with Peter, black-and-white cards conjure the London rooftops, undulating ribbons suggest the sea and coloured globes become planets in a delightfully enthralling sequence . In Neverland the Lost Boys make use of found objects so that bicycle pumps become radars or walkie-talkies and tin cans turn into telephones and binoculars. There are also wonderful mermaids. Musically it is a mix of jazz,pop and reggae.
The show opens and closes with the adult Wendy and her daughter Jane with Wendy dreaming with her young daughter about the time when she and her two brothers were whisked away by Peter Pan to meet the Lost Boys.
Peter Pan himself (Paul Hilton) is a lanky charismatic adult in a vibrant bottle-green suit, like a Rosella parrott or leprechaun , in some ways reminiscent of Papageno perhaps ( ? note the pan pipes) , with rock star self assurance , arrogant , petulant and cocky , trapped in a permanent state of arrested just -adolescence and naively innocent about growing up and sex.
Which at least partly explains why Madeleine Worrall’s Wendy gets quite annoyed with him for failing to grasp the truth behind their adult charades. His diatribe against Mothers emphasises the fear Peter has about the terrible things mothers do , making you love them, but then as soon as you fly out of the window they put bars on it and you can’t get back , emphasising his loneliness and longing.
Worrall ( Cookson’s wonderful Jane Eyre previously ) is a feisty , responsible , pragmatic Wendy, in striped pyjamas , disturbed by the pressures of becoming a reluctant ‘mother ‘ to a boisterous troupe of Lost Boys.
Mischievous , darting fussy Tinkerbell ( with stylized feathers for ‘wings’ and a fairylight headdress) , jealous of Wendy ,was enchantingly played by Saikat Ahamad who speaks his own special Fairy dialect .
Anna Francolini as Mrs Darling is delightfully charming , but she also has a wonderful time stealing the stage as an evil , scheming punk Goth Hook – in a huge purple crinoline , large black wig and very high boots and a black glove where her hand should be and shark like glittering silver teeth.She bravely meets her end by crocodile. As Hook, Francolini is sometimes surprisingly melancholy and yearning yet at other murderous and malevolent ( ‘Pirates don’t have teddy bears ‘).
Felix Hayes’ rather wet and henpecked, harassed Mr Darling sulks and stresses, acts a bit as if he wants his wife to be his Mother and refuses to take his medicine .He has much fun as Smee the pirate.
Lois Chimimba is menacing and fiery as Tiger Lily, an unpredictable dreadlocked Glaswegian , perhaps menacing but overall friendly with Peter . She is ringed by wolves: actors with masks and on crutches (a reference to Anthony Sher’s Richard 111? ) who prowl and slither ominously.
Ekow Quartey as Nana the dog is delightful , a large brawny man in a frilly white pinafore that shivers when he shakes or is offended because he has to act like a dog.
This simultaneously joyous yet very moving National Theatre version concentrates on the theme of parenting but it also remains faithful to the major issues of abandonment , childhood loss and the awkwardness of growing up.
For more information about NT Live PETER PAN visit:

Sydney Dance New Breed


Cass Mortimer Eipper and Nelson Earl in Bell Jar. Photo: Pedro Greig
NEW BREED: Sydney Dance Company
Quite a mixed bill in this latest presentation by Sydney Dance , the fourth presentation of NEW BREED – something for everyone yet challenging and provoking .
First up was Bell Jar choreographed and performed by Cass Mortimer Eipper and Nelson Earl . Inspired by Virginia Woolf’s work in some ways it is about confronting one’s inner demons. It was very macho yet intimate , strong and sweaty, very powerful and thrillingly performed with hints of violence hidden below the surface. The two were topless and in dark trousers In some ways it was as if they were two halves of a whole and Earl was trying to escape perhaps.
It was slithery, fast and furious with sinuous arms and a martial arts feel at times. Other sections featured the use of angular elbows, or sculptural silhouette .  The music by Marco Cher-Gibard at times crashed and roared.  There was an emotionally powerful ending with Earl perhaps dying in Mortimer-Eipeer’s arms.
Next came Petros Treklis’ The Art of Letting Go .” 7 dancers portraying one man and his mind”.It opened with a fantastic solo for Sam Young-Wright looming out of the darkness. The seven wore grey outfits. In some ways it is perhaps reminiscent of Murphy’s ‘Purgatory ‘ .  Choreographically the work featured fluid, slinky movement , exciting ensemble work , runs , some striking , dangerous lifts … isolation movements are included , as well as stylized repeated small movements .There is an atmosphere of love and loss . It concludes with more tumultuous slinky , ensemble work.
Tyrone Earl Lrae Robinson’s strange [bio]Curious was first after interval , which he informs us in the program notes is attempting to question the relationship we have with the natural world. I found it coolly clinical yet simultaneously stylised and extremely sensual.
It opens with Chloe Leong like a goddess in the bath , in a heavily stylized and textured leotard , who entices with a slinky , sensual solo ( echoes perhaps of Murphy’s Some Rooms ? ) . Nelson Earlappears and there are slithery pas de deux . The set is of plants mostly in display cases but some on a table and there is much symbolic use of the plants – sniffing , tasting etc . Their tryst is interrupted by Davide Di Giovanni in a black floral mask – a reference perhaps to the serpent and garden of Eden ?
Melanie Lane’s WOOF with its pulsating music by Clark , flickering lights and sculptural lines explores various intellectual and physical ideas , with fine ensemble work by all . While WOOF is perhaps a little long Lane reveals enormous potential. It strives to express ‘ the fantasy of a post-human collective spirit ‘ and has a cast of twelve. Aleisa Jelbart’s delicate ghostly white costumes become dirty by the end because of the blackened hands of the dancers .
There are allusions to Baroque paintings and Bangarra perhaps , with allusions to other past pop dance and art ‘schools’ which gradually develops into a pastiche of contemporary and includes lots of fast , fiddly footwork . Choreographically it also included lots of runs , fast furious jumps and lots of walks and sections on high demi pointe. At times the ensemble writhed sculpturally, at others they split into smaller groups of trios or quartets . Absorbing .
Sydney Dance NEW BREED runs at Carriageworks 30 November – 9 December 2017

The Royal Ballet in Alice in Wonderland


Bold, bright, colourful and exotic this is a wonderful revival by the Royal Ballet of Christopher Wheeldon’s ALICE IN WONDERLAND first seen in 2011. It is part of the Royal Opera House 2017/18 Live Cinema Season. Visually stunning it showcases some fabulous theatrical effects, wonderful dancing, and Wheeldon’s inspired, outstanding choreography. The work feels, at times, perhaps a little dominated by set and visual design values but it is a stunning visual feast and full of delightful whimsy.
There are perhaps hints and allusions to the ‘big three’ of the Tchaikovsky /Petipa/Ivanov works in certain parts of Wheeldon’s choreography, particularly in some of the pas de deux for Alice and Jack/the Knave of Hearts and the Queen of Hearts spoof of the Rose Adagio. Joby Talbot’s sparkling, remarkable score is full of glissando mood swings and nifty character definition. The Orchestra under the baton of Koen Kessels was excellent.
The ballet opens introducing all the cast at a garden party where Alice’s mother dismisses the under-gardener, Jack (Federico Bonnelli) for stealing a jam tart. This leads to heartbroken tears from young Alice (Lauren Cuthbertson) – presented as older than in the book – who was rather hoping to see him later for a tryst. Very handsome Bonnelli dances wonderfully as the Knave of Hearts/Jack. Alice’s home is also visited by the ‘real’ Carroll (that is, Charles Dodgson) and by characters who will later reappear in Wonderland.
The dangerous sausage-making scene in the lethal Cook’s ( Kristen McNally ) kitchen could have come out of Sweeney Todd, and the axe-wielding psychotic madness of the Queen of Hearts ( Laura Morera) creates a real sense of frenzied terror. The ballet, at times, immerses itself entirely in the rather surreal Carroll universe, following the dreamlike narrative and its nonsense-cum-logical progression with remarkable fidelity. Morera as the tyrannical, malignant scene stealing Queen of Hearts was brilliant and there was a somewhat angular pastiche of the Rose Adagio from Sleeping Beauty with her four ‘suitors’ perhaps in the style of Les Ballets Trocadero. The gentle, lugubrious old King of Hearts ( Christopher Saunders) was perhaps brother to the red king in de Valois’ ‘Checkmate’ .The horrid Duchess as portrayed by Gary Avis could possibly have stepped out of Victorian pantomime.
I thought James Hay as the dithering , scared courtier of the White Rabbitt/Lewis Carroll was excellent and extremely stylish in his elegant white satin, looking quite like Elton John in those ( rose tinted? ) glasses. He has incredible, soft bouncy pas de chats at one point, beautifully performed and it is pleasing to see how he helps Alice and the Knave hide from the Queen.
As the exuberant Mad Hatter with his dynamic, colourful tap shoes and dazzling style, Steven MCrae was superb. He has an exuberant, showy duet with Alice.The strange tea party with the March Hare ( Paul Kay) was excellently performed with the poor dormouse (Romany Pajdak) ending up in a giant cup .
Act two’s waltz of the flowers in the garden is a delightful homage to the traditional Petipa story ballets. Special mention must also be made of the enchanting (dis)appearances of the impish, playful Cheshire Cat brilliantly conceived. A later segment is a tribute to the angular precision of modern dance, with the corps de ballet as a deck of cards (think sort of perhaps Stanton Welch’s Divergence).
The sinuous sensuality of The Caterpillar (Fernando Montano) and his slave girls was a delightful piece of exotic kitsch with allusions to The Nutcracker. And I loved the blue pointe shoes, especially encrusted with diamonds!
And I mustn’t forget the fish and frog footmen (Tristan Dyer and David Yudes ) fabulously costumed or the wonderful flamingos and hedgehogs of the croquet game.
Towards the end there is an extremely polished and beautiful pas de deux between Alice (Lauren Cuthbertson ) and the Knave of Hearts (Federico Bonnelli) . And I loved the return, at the end, to the real ‘ world of current, contemporary Oxford.
A wonderful, spectacular revival. The Australian Ballet have just opened in Sydney with their production at the Capitol .
Running time – allow 3 & ½ hours including two intervals.The film also includes a short documentary beforehand on the revival of the work, and there are interviews various people associated with the production during both intervals.
The Royal Ballet’s ALICE IN WONDERLAND screens at selected Event cinemas 25 – 29 November 2017 as part of the Royal Opera House 2017/18 Live Cinema Season.

British Museum Presents : After the great Wave- HOKUSAI


This latest film as part of the British Museum Presents/strong> series is a fascinating look at the life and times of Katsushika Hokusai , who is often regarded as Japan’s greatest artist , in the exhibition that was in London at the British Museum May 25 – August 13 2017.
It concentrates specifically on the last 30 years of his long life in the great, bustling metropolis of Edo, modern Tokyo .We see both Hokusai’s prints of Edo and today’s Tokyo . Eagerly introduced by arts presenter Andrew Graham-Dixon, the film features interviews with artists David HockneyGrayson Perry and Maggi Hambling, we learn about his life and influences and the various woodblock techniques used .
The documentary focuses especially on two works – THE GREAT WAVE and RED (PINK) MOUNT FUJI  It concentrates on works he produced in the last 30 years of his life from his 60’s (when he considered life began again) to his death at 90.
Hokusai produced hundreds of impressions of his most famous works in woodblock prints and some prints vary slightly because the woodblock suffers from wear and tear.
The film uses extremely detailed close-ups and pioneering 8K Ultra HD video technology, where Hokusai’s paintings and prints are examined by world experts who are at the forefront of digital art history.  Hokusai spent his life studying and celebrating our common humanity ( think of his drawings of various workers) as well as deeply exploring the natural and spiritual worlds, ( frogs, fish , waterfalls, dragons , ghosts , demons and gods etc – eg Shokiand Kohada Koheiji from One Hundred Ghost Tales, ) and how he used the famous volcano Mount Fuji as a protective presence and potential source of immortality ( there is his major work 36 Views of Mount Fuji of which The Great Wave is one) .
We also see his drawings of drunken poetry competitions, of kabuki stars, of courtesans and everyday life in Edo.
Hokusai’s life is set in context with references to ’The Floating World’. We learn how he knew much tragedy, was struck by lightning (which he considered changed his life and enabled him to become a great artist, answering his prayer) and lived for years in poverty, but never gave up his constant striving for perfection in his art. Hokusai in a way created modern art in Japan , is an artist who influenced Monet, Van Gogh , Seurat and other Impressionists, produced illustrated novels , is regarded as the father of manga ( comic books) and is the only painter with his own emoji.
Commissioned by the Dutch East India Company (known as the VOC) in 1822 to produce a series of scenes of everyday Japanese life, he produced a group of innovative paintings striking because of their inclusion of deep European style perspective and simultaneously abstraction as well as the use pf Prussian Blue pigment which made the work more attractive to foreign audiences.
The self-described ‘Old man mad about painting’ was known by at least thirty names during his lifetime and was renowned for his at times eccentric behaviour. He travelled and moved his studio and home regularly, finding inspiration for his unique style through close observations of nature and interactions with ordinary people. We also learn that he was a Nichiren Buddhist, and that there were profound religious reasons for this constant renewal.
Graham-Dixon is extremely enthusiastic in a David Attenborough way and we have interviews with major Hokusai experts and various artists who talk about his influence and also fascinatingly about his daughter Eijo and her struggles to be acknowledged as an artist in her own right.
Most of the screening is an examination of his life and times, placing the artist in context but we also get to see the exhibition – featuring lots of exquisitely hung long scrolls and so on from various galleries and museums around the world in a rare chance to see these works all in one place. We are privileged to see all these as we are reminded that because of the fragility and possibility of light damage mostly the works are kept rolled up away from light for years at a time.
A fascinating exploration of this great artist’s life and times but I would have liked to have seen more of his earlier works as well.
Running time allow 90 minutes no interval.
Hokusai : After the Great Wave screens at selected cinemas from 18 November 2017