Posts Tagged ‘Baxter Theatre’

Last week the Baxter Theatre was so kind as to invite my better half, @wernerels, and I to another opening night performance, this time of the Imperial Russian Ballet Company. Believe it or not, even though I have many friends who are professional ballet dancers and am a huge fan of the art, last night was my very first “audience perspective” experience of a live performance — shocking, I know. And what a privilege for it to have been a performance of these exceptionally skilled athletes, yes athletes, who move so gracefully and with such absolute precision.

If it were not for dreams there would not be such a thing as ballet, the cruelest of the performing arts.

The Imperial Russian Ballet Company is one of the most successful and well-known ballet companies in Moscow. Their repertoire exceeds them, and consists of a number of outstanding full-length classical masterpieces, such as Swan Lake and The Nutcracker, as well as some modern choreography in some of their works. Founded in 1994 by Gedeminas Taranda and Nikolai Ankhine on the suggestion of well-known performer Maija Plisetzkaya, the company comprises of 40 classically trained dancers — 22 of which performed at last night’s show. Although their primary choreographic style is classical, they do, however, also indulge in modern dance and choreographic novelties, which means there really is something for everyone!

The principle dancers included the breathtaking soloist perfromer, Anna Pashkova, and her male counterpart, Narima Bekzhanov. These two, as well as the 37 year old Elena Colesnicenco, impressed me the most, but Ekaterina Tikanova, Duminica-Radamaria Nazerenco, Aleksanr Volkov, Arcadie Nazarenco, and the young Igor Subbotin followed hot on their heels. To put it simply, the made the impossible seem effortless.

Under the direction of innovative Artistic Director, Gediminas
Taranda, last night’s program consisted of different segments of larger productions, such as Sleeping Beauty, “Dying Swan” from the well-known piece Swan LakeWalpurgis Night, the one-act ballet from the opera Faust by Charles Gounod, cleverly using modern ballet with the musical genius of Carl Orff’s Carmina Burana,  Adagio from the ballet Scheherezade by Rimsky-Korsakov, the classical Grand pas de deux (“dance for two”) from the ballet Don Quixote by Ludwig Minkus, the moving solo piece, performed by the barefoot Anna Pashkova, using the haunting music Non Me Quitez Pas (Don’t Leave Me) of Jacques Brel, and finally the Can-Can Surprise by Jacques Offenbach to end off the evening with a bit of a laugh.

The only thing I can critique was the lighting and, on occasion, the timing of music. There were several noticeable errors in lighting design and execution. Spots were off aim, backstage shadows were seen, and, if I have to be picky, someone was a little over-eager with the smoke machine, which covered the first 6 rows of the audience . That being said, this does does not reflect on the stunning performance of the dancers in any way, who were, at all times, focused, timely and professional.

Author  George Borodin says it best …

Ballet is not technique, but a way of expression that comes more closely to the inner language of man than any other.

Alexander Pushki once said:

Ballet is a dance executed by the human soul.

I agree. Three stamps of approval in my books!

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Last Friday I enjoyed another fine ‘Taste, Tweet & Theatre’ experience at the Baxter Theatre. This time, I was privileged enough to be an audience to Ariel Dorfman’s Purgatorio performed on the Flipside stage, following its premiere at the National Arts Festival in  this year.

‘Purgatorio’ is Italian for purgatory. In Roman Catholic theology, to be in ‘purgatory’ is to be in a place inhabited by the souls of sinners who undergo a process of purification for their sins before going to heaven. This riveting tale of two lovers caught up together in limbo between life and the afterlife, is based on the mythological couple Jason and Madea. According to Greek mythology, the hero, Jason, fell in love with the enchantress, Medea, and she bore him two sons. But when Jason betrayed Medea by marrying another woman, she gets revenge on her husband, by murdering their two sons as well as the woman he loved — just as she had slaughtered her brother in the name of love years before.

Wonderfully acted by our own Dawid Minnaar and Terry Norton, their story begins in what seems like a windowless cell at some sort of mental asylum. The scene is set with a clinical single bed, small steel trolley and chair. The male doctor, an apparent aid to the next life, and his female patient, the modern Madea, are in session. They discuss her progress and her need for understanding, forgiveness and redemption for the horrid things she had done in her previous life. We see the woman revisit a time when her life was simple and innocent. To a time of kind winds, pure waters, and hungry kittens, where she was free to dream, laugh and conjure up spells and potions in her head. A time long before she met ‘him’ – the man who would change her entire world.

With the clever aid of multimedia imagery by Kai Lossgott, carefully chosen music for ambience, and the very knife she used to butcher her boys, we experience the vivid violence she vexed on others, as she tells us her story. The scene is then cut another two characters; this time a male prisoner and a female doctor. Here we meet the modern Jason and his aid through purgatory. He is the father of two murdered boys, and husband to a sorceress and one murdered lover. He too is in session, but has made remarkable progress in repenting his past sins, so this will be his last. If he successfully completes this one last set of tasks / tests by his aid, he may leave through the door. But what lies beyond it? A new life? A fresh start? Or just another task for him to complete before he is free?

From the simply and intelligently lit and designed set, thanks to Leopold Senekal and Patrick Curtis, to the exquisite acting by Terry and Dawid, Clare Stopford’s directing handiwork is clearly evident throughout the show. An intense, soul-stirring must-see for all serious theatre goers. “Hell hath no fury lika a woman scorned.” A definite four stamps from me!

Two Wednesdays ago, I was fortunate enough to be invited to the Baxter Theatre’s “Taste, Tweet & Theatre” evening to view the opening of the latest multimedia production performed by the Handspring Puppet Company, Ouroboros. For those of you going “Huh?” and with thumbs at the ready to Google this odd title, allow me to spare you the surfing time: Ouroboros is an ancient symbol of a snake or dragon eating and/or swallowing its own tale. It symbolises the cyclic Nature of the Universe: creation out of destruction, Life out of Death. The ouroboros eats its own tail to sustain its life, in an eternal cycle of renewal – the “circle of life” sort of thing, as Mufasa put it in The Lion King.

So, that having been said, back to the production at hand. Ouroboros, directed by Janni Younge, was, as many of the Tweeters that evening had said, absolutely “magical” to watch. I would say this is a production for the kid in all of us – filled with fantasy, it had a tangible quality that can only be described as “weird and wonderful”. It was both nakedly realistic and beautifully wistful.  

The thing that immediately caught my attention was the fact that the puppeteers were distinctly visible throughout the show, wearing cream coloured clothing whilst manipulating the nearly life-sized puppets into being. And, yet, as I became more and more enveloped in the story these silent creatures were telling, the puppeteers became less and less noticeable to me. One beautiful attribute I observed about this production was how the puppets and their puppeteers were cleverly paired, both racially as well as according to gender. Three young black women puppeteers handled only the three black female puppets, whilst three white men handled only the three white male puppets. This added a certain authenticity to how these puppets moved and interacted with each other, which, I believe, would have been lost otherwise. The actors (Jason Potgieter, Cindy Mkaza, Gabriel Marchand, Tali Cervati, Beren Belknap and Chuma Sopotela) who manipulated the puppets’ movements and whose faces expressed their characters’ emotions so vividly, created a non-verbal language everyone in the audience could relate to, without intruding on the performance.

So doing, they told a story of love and life shared between Nokobinisa, a graceful dancer, and Andre, a haunted poet, spanned over three key stages of their lives –  childhood, adulthood, and the latter years. We follow them from their innocent meeting as children to their reintroduction and sensual entanglement as adults, and on to bitter-sweet goodbyes as elderly sweethearts.There is a central and an ever continuing theme of new life birthing out of that which seems dead and lost. Yet nothing ends. Nothing truly dies. They live on in their children and grandchildren. The cycle continues. 

The audience experiences all three stages of their lives as being lived presently and, on occasion, I could not differentiate between the characters, as their lives intertwined and in the way they related to each other beyond the dimensions of time. Throughout the piece they encountered creatures of spiritual significance – a dog, an Oryx, and, on occasion, even Death itself. This created the atmosphere of foreboding and we all knew that another spectre of life loomed in the darkness. One we would all rather not think about. On so many levels the audience could relate to the human emotions and experiences of each character. I laughed with them, I shed a tear with them, I dreamed with them, I feared with them, I hoped with them, but most of all, I fought for dear life with them.

“Tonight I got to see a little girl kick death in the face.” – Rob van Vuuren (@RobVanVuuren via Twitter)

These puppets, with their delicately etched features, demands constant attention and emotional investment from the audience. I for one could feel them breathing, blushing, laughing, weeping. Even the delicate love scene between the Nokobinisa and Andre is handled with such sensitivity. Such a tangible intimacy was created by the four actors who manipulated these puppets so beautifully. Their finely crafted props, along with the clever use of multi media animation, poetic citations from the Billy Collins, original music by Neo Muyangaand, and delicate shadow puppetry, made for a production that completely encircles its audience in a world of fantasy and wonder. Three stamps of approval in my book. What a show.

“What I experienced in Ouroboros. Magical, mystical, strange, uncomfortable, often unfathomable trip. Beautiful, magnificent, moving puppets who float in and out of the complicated story like cloud people. Strange art animation that delights and confounds. Haunting music. Moments of heartbreaking theatre beauty…Exquisite lighting. Confusing. Captivating. Breathtaking. Sad.” – Theatre critic Megan Furniss (@meganshead)