Saturday, 25 January 2014

La Bayadère: An array of synchronised white tutus, salvaged by the stunning Spanish heart, Tamara Rojo

La Bayadère (the Temple Dancer) like Swan Lake, is a masterpiece bought to life by musical composer Ludwig Minkus and Marius Petipa’s French and Russian inspired choreography, however, it lacks the exposure and necessary praise that it truly deserves. Soviet-Russian-born prima ballerina Natalia Makarova managed to captivate the American audience for the first time back in 1974.

One of Makarova's repertoires was staged at The Royal Ballet in 2009, which was screened this week by Francesca Secola from Birkbeck’s Spanish and Portuguese Speaking society. She hosted this open evening to devote time to those who enjoy classical ballet at the college. There were a small group of us from different courses who attended this rare occasion - the majority had not seen the ballet before.  

The cast for the ballet included a Latin mix of collaborations underpinning the ethnic connection which Francesca wanted to share. Cuban born, then Royal Ballet principal, Carlos Acosta, played the charming Solor; he has danced numerous times at the Royal Ballet as a highly accomplished talent. Argentinian ballerina Marianela Nuñez led as the devilish rival Gamzatti who steals Solor’s heart with her divine, seductive looks and dancing ravishingly poised yet, with Acosta there seemed to be minimal symmetry Acosta’s portrayal of a confused protagonist, spiraling hopelessly with both Bayadèr and Gamzatti in an ménage a trois scene, did not leave his strength and agility to question though.

Pier Luigi Samaritani’s colourful Indian scenery and Yolanda Sonnabend’s eastern set design added a unique flavor to the classic ballet, not forgetting the small springy bronze idol played by another latino dancer Jose Martin. Yet, it was the Spanish heroine Tamara Rojo that was the star of the stage who proved to be a better match for Acosta, with her natural, seemingly effortless and seamless turns. 

Rojo’s performance was exciting to watch. It's hard for the audience to not marvel at her flexible, sculpted body with her passion for dance. She danced as if it were her last. In the mysterious Kingdom of Shades, twenty-four delicately synchronized dancers concentrated on their arabesque penché, pacing slowly in a harmonious trail of shining tutus, to a dreamy stage of heart-felt strings in the background. 

Makarova once said the, “…corps de ballet is the leading role… Yet, the corps
must always work together as a unified whole.” This contrasts with the beginning acts’ vitality, variety of post-colonial Indian hues and a collection of gypsy scarfs and high-jumping savagery choreography. Viewing this extravagant work through a DVD, allows the audience to zoom in on techniques that a live performance would not have access to.

After the screening the classroom was lit with content students all saying the words, ‘that was enjoyable!’ Secola is a student ambassador for the Royal Opera House, who promotes their productions to Birkbeck. This screening is the first of many to take place at the university. The intention is to provide an awareness of how accessible the so-called elitist and unaffordable performances at the Royal Opera House are, which can be attainable for a measly tenner.

Please visit their website for more information on ‘Student Standby’ discounted tickets.

Click here for more information of Student Standby, goodies, discount tickets at the Royal Opera House website. Sign up to their e-mail list to get the best deals. 

Monday, 20 January 2014


By Mary Grace Nguyen
I wish I was as rich as a trader, that got high and satisfied at the same time.
There are so many things to love about the Wolf of Wall Street, not only for Leonardo Di Caprio's handsome face as millionaire trader Jordan Belfort, not only for his loud mouth crony and confidante Donnie Azzoff' (Jonah Hill) and the endless humour that got you cracking up in hysterics but, for the endorphins and drive for money, drugs and sex with a lot of high class hookers. It is a parallel universe to the 95% of people who will end up watching this movie, because only a small cohort of actual traders will have the time, while the rest of them will be too busy making that money or not bother to view this lavish explosion of gluttony party mayhem to which they probably endure day in, day out. Matthew Macconaughey  plays a cameo role as one of Jordan's first mentors (Mark Hanna,) and tells him that there are two factors that keep him going in the business, 'cocaine and hookers', after having screamed at a bunch of wall street money mongers. 'Let's f***!', is what he screams when it turns 9.30am on the ticket clock - the time when they start picking up the phones and making those millions of dollars.

Unusual incentives and comradery perks in the office take place once the market closed in forms of throwing dwarfs on velcro dart boards, prostitutes and strippers running around naked (out of nowhere,) half dressed marching bands trumpeting and banging away on the drums and a female colleague agreeing to $10,000 in exchange for a shaven head Oh, and let’s not forget that there was a lot of coke and alcohol around to feed a small island. It's almost too ridiculous to be realistic but, according to Belfort himself, this ridiculousness was how far it got and for Martin Scorsese, the setting and scenes bear fruit - money made these liars richer. 

The misogyny is also too gruesome from Jordon's constant need to steer away from his home life and resume hookerville and infidelity that led to him meeting his second wife (Naomi Lapaglia,) played by the gorgeous Margot Robbie. With such phrases as the girls being 'bald from the eyebrows down,' to the physical violence he inflicts on her when she first lets him know that she wants a divorce, you can see how the corruption slowly festers in his head within the past 5 years from when he created his criminal enterprise. 

The movie is electrifying with beautiful unaffordable homes, unfathomable mansions, dreamy backgrounds of Manhattan, Switzerland and Italy. All you need is a yacht with Nicola's name on it to feel like you have made it. Leonardo rocks up in Armani suits and a pearl white Lamborghini Countach, which is loaded with Belford’s calibre and sense of style, let alone his pocket. The film's focus on a spoilt plot follows with mini snippets where he would look at the camera and tell us point black that nothing he was doing was legal, giving off a wariness and skewed perception that Belfort was aware of his own paranoias of being found out by the FBI.

Most memorable scenes that topped if off, for me, was the moment Belfort and Donnie started to pile on the Lemmon pills. As soon as Jordan had reached the cerebral palsy stage it was a painful stomach that got you giggling childishly, hugging your tummy and hissing. From the crawling into his soon-to-be trashed toy car and getting into it with great difficulty, both of their inabilities to communicate to each other, the twists and turns of the telephone wires and Donnie almost dying from ham stuck in his throat soon resuscitated by Pop-Eye spinach and cocaine fiend induced Jordan. Scorsese achieved taking the edge of drugs by allowing it to be comical as the movie, Hangover, me thinks.

Any professional that has to close deals with clients, attend sales meeting, listen to motivational speeches and aim to win hard earned commission, will empathise with this pressure 'boiler room' environment. It is a reminder that with much greed and money, there is a downfall to be had with all this happiness if not monitored and traced. In one of Jordan's last speeches to his employees he says, 'I want to help you get rid of your problems, pick up the phone and get rich.' This is the a poignant phrase that resonates everywhere because time is precious in a cut throat money grabbing world, and for all it is worth, this is just a biography of one of the many historical anti-heroes who get founded out for trying to corrupt the system and thinking they can get away with it. 

**** (4 STAR) 

Sunday, 19 January 2014

Rebekah Fortune - Orangutan productions - Othello

You are presented with a film noir smoky bar, where an American singer (Rudina Hatipi) in black, wearing a large feather head dress sings the words, ‘be good to your man,’ to piano jazz, in front of a bar – a 1940s bar.  Her cheeky lyrics get you warmed up. The mood is calm yet, dim lit with hanging lamps and coloured fabrics to divide up the space that is cleverly devised by Libby Todd. Straight in, enters Roderigo and the Manchunian accent - Iago. Roderigo’s black and white spats first grab the left side audiences’ attention, and the lighting of a cigarette grabs everyone else’s. The smell and atmosphere is soon hazy and nicotine stains the room giving off the almost gangster impression and film noir scent. Although atmospheric, I fear a couple of members from the audience may not have agreed with this as they coughed away. 
Roderigo (Max Wilson) plays a hopeless and broken nosed lap dog victim to Iago that will try anything to win the affections of Desdemona, whilst Manchester born, Peter Lloyd, produces an Iago that we would not have expect. Iago is a big role and the pioneer, some would say, behind the success of Othello as a play. Against a cast of different accents to his own, it could have thrown some of the audiences’ taste, however, I would gladly vouch to say the opposite. An accent from Manchester shows a grittier, hard-working man from the outside that has travelled south, to get up the ladder. There is a rogue like attribute to him and this distinctive accent gives him that edge. As we know, Iago is the driving force as his plotting and scheming makes everyone troubled, deluded, confused, irrational and killed. However, there was something deeply missing and flawed and that was a more evil Iago. No doubt he comes across selfish and strategises to his own end, but his soliloquies to the crowd were such like any Joe Bloggs impressing a girl in a bar with a story. There was no sense of a “green-eyed monster” and the pressing Northern grit may not have been enough.
Brabantio (Andrew Lewis) chuckles broodingly in a naughty scene opening as womanizing the singer who fidgets with his suspenders swearing off the ‘Moor’ and angered by his daughter’s betrayal. Andrew’s character is the first to expose deceit where his words are brash and full of woeful noise that we almost pity him. Although, a father that has just lost his daughter, he is soon transformed into background shuffling present in most scenes with no knowledge of the entrapments of Iago and as a mere hotel manager.
Cassio (Fergal Phillips,) good looking as they must be for such a scape goat character plays a great ‘drunk’ who stutters as he asserts he isn’t that at all. This hilarious scene brings the audience into a past time of when they had been happily intoxicated and surrounded by likewise merry friends. Soon, this is swallowed up with a knife in a fast fight scene between Cassio, Roderigo, and Montano (James Lawrence). There is more blood spill in the final act between Roderigo, Cassio and secretively Iago. These macho physical brawls are mighty with the actors’ speed and jumpiness thrown onto an intimate audience only a few inches away.
Bianca (Jade Matthew) is an attractive, blonde bystander, dressed in a French maid costume that is unfortunately naïve of love and Cassio’s true feelings towards her. She is stuck in the middle of it all and knows barely anything.
Othello (Stefan Adegbola) on the other hand is the big man. He displays a well spoken, charming, straight postured, wise gentleman that is aware of all the challenges of being black. Despite a turmoil past he has been restored and awarded a high ranking military title that Desdemona falls in love with. Yet the moment, Iago utters the word ‘indeed’ and questions Desdemona’s purity, Othello descend into madness, spitting out insanity. This follows with a loud slap on her (Gillian Saker’s,) face, which is powerful and unexpected as the audience gasps. Lodovico (Sam Blythe) stands in for truth, law and justice executing his moral condemnation of Othello’s actions instantly. A much loved Othello soon shows signs of incompetence, nor the ability to think rationally or lead his men as he weeps a ‘misery’ mind, full of dark and nasty thoughts of death all too easily swayed by a cuckolding Iago. His respected image is unredeemable.
Gillian is a shining star. She is graciously stunning with beautiful ginger locks that bounce across Othello’s face that we immensely adore. At the outset, one is unsure of the lover’s passion for each other that begins in a political argument with her father yet, as the play ensues - the lover’s happiness is potent. This happiness is soon destroyed with the many mentions of Cassio’s name and requests for her husband to speak to him revealing a vulnerable child like Desdemona that also losses the plot, as conniving Iago carries her in his arms, attending to her like an upset babe. Once Othello loses his cool, so does his passive wife who accepts the fatal conclusion. Neither of them are innocent and pure anymore. It’s a devastating shocker of scene as he attempts to kill her the first time. Watching Othello strangle her as she is still stands and even more remorseful when he finally does by placing his hand over her mouth. It sheds a tear and Shakespeare was clever for pointing out the human condition and all its foolish fragility.
Emilia (Gemma Stroyan) should not go unnoticed. This pretty voluptuous character is quiet at the beginning whose un-dynamic relationship with Iago is paralleled with Desdemona’s marriage presented in a separation of coffee tables. She slouches and perplexes over her husband’s clear lack of attention, as he carelessly reads the tabloid paper. Nonetheless, she comes in full force in the final act, as an established ambassador not for feminism, but equality for both women and men. She ensures that the truth and her husband’s deadly agendas are exposed to the Duke (Alistair Scott) and Lodovico. Gemma is a talented woman and it is a shame we didn’t get to see more of her. She does well to show her loyalty and sisterly love for her lady as she lies also betrayed and bloodied stating all she needs to for Iago to go justly punished and for Othello to persuade him to take his life.
Orangutan’s first production has done well to present itself with Othello, a favourite Shakespearean tragedy that everyone can emphathise with given the perverse nature of jealousy and deceit.
The direction, use of white silhouettes and fabrics gives a softness feminine touch to Desdemona’s dressing room representing her chastity, perhaps, and gives an individual voice to Othello before he offers Desdemona to heaven.
Film Noir has a dark murderous theme that bodes well in vintage 1940s attire as designed by Eleanor Bull.  Dapper suits, smart skirts and dresses are also a sign of class as we compare Othello’s sartorial style and Iago lack of it. As observations go, we see particularly in Othello, Desdemono, Roderigo, and Iago, that they are striped of their jackets and dresses demonstrating the striping of superficiality and dignity with closer inspection of bare truths.
Background piano jazz and composer, Piers Sherwood- Roberts, gives us an era and ambience to bear in mind. We take note that the first time Othello tries to strangles his wife and his right hand man, Iago, there is a tonal baseline denoting Othello’s need for honesty and assurance. His lunatic mind has driven him irrational and ill tempered, and this electronic string note lingers in to inform us of the eventuality of mayhem.
Given that this was a first time production, of young, fresh and good looking cast members of talent, in a unmistakably popular Shakespearean play, Rebeckah Fortune’s interpretation, has done exceedingly well in making use of limited space and little resources for a thoroughly thought out play filled of subtle stylistic compositions and grandeur movements.

****(4 star)