Theatrical Perfection? – The Blue Dragon – The Barbican Theatre London – Review

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Tai Wei Foo in The Blue Dragon

Why do I go to the theatre regularly? To be entertained? To be challenged? Because I’m a student of the art form? Yes to all of these but my primary aim is to be changed. A lofty aim no doubt, and to be honest it seldom happens, but every so often it does, and it’s the most incredible experience.

Since commencing my Theatre Studies back in 2005 there have been several seminal events in my theatrical life. One of which was hearing Robert Lepage lecture at my college in my first year of study. His passion, vision and clarity struck me, and following that lecture I researched more into his work, and his life.  I’ve been fortunate to see some of his work via video, but never live. The chance to see his new play and with him in it, made it top of my list for theatrical visits this year. I was also fortunate to see TOTEM also by Lepage this year and I found that an inspiring theatrical event.

So I booked this ticket solely on the fact that it was a Lepage play, but as I then read more about it, I became more and more intrigued. It focuses on Pierre Lamontagne, the character Lepage created for his Dragon’s Trilogy just over 25 years ago. We revisit this character in Shanghai and catch up with him and his life. Lepage plays Pierre, in what is one of the best portrayals I’ve seen on stage. Following this post recently a friend commented to me that, it’s great when you see a play and you forget the actor, and you become immersed in the world on stage and that character. Lepage was an object lesson in this, he WAS Pierre. Likewise Tai Wei Foo and Marie Michaud who played Xiao Ling and Claire respectively also created believable characters on stage. More than that though I cared for these characters and their decisions and their lives.

Tai Wei Foo as Xiao Ling and Marie Michaud as Claire

For me this was why this play was so special, it had heart and soul, and I felt part of their world as I could see it was a reflection of my own world. We live in a Globalised world now and Theatre is responding to that in various ways, one is to simply produce the same musicals everywhere – a Chinese version of Les Mis opened in 2008. More Cameron Mackintosh productions are to follow in China too. Whilst this is one way of reacting to the new world, I feel Lepage’s is more organic and more beneficial.  The Blue Dragon felt that each culture was respected and brought to the melting pot. That’s not to say only the good parts of each culture were displayed, far from it, the small-minded view of the Québécois that Pierre escaped from was shown as well as the harshness of life in China, but Lepage never went over to melodrama, his characters have to put up with problems like we all do, they got on, made decisions and lived with them. That is why this play resonated with me so much, it felt tangible and real, like few plays do. The speech of the play is in English, French and Mandarin (with subtitles) as and when required, rather than being confusing it simply helped to add to the realism and also the difference in speech tones and rhythms between the three languages was striking to hear.  As someone who works in a cosmopolitan city and work environment, different languages being spoken at anytime is not something that I’m unfamiliar with, again it’s part of being in the 21st Century Globalised world. One thing the play highlighted is something we’ve known for a long time, but was dramatically shown here, we’ll all be hearing more Mandarin in the future, more  than French and English perhaps?

Robert Lepage as Pierre Lamontagne

Lepage is known for his use of theatrical effects and this play is no different, but again, the effects, staging and lighting fit in seamlessly, and help to tell the story. This is theatre for a 21st century audience that isn’t afraid to use visual and cinematic ideas. The set gave me a feeling of “widescreen” and the clever staging utilised one aspect that theatre is especially suited to, that of working vertically whereas film is primarily a horizontal view, Lepage blended to the two genres and played to the strength of each.

I especially loved the tribute to Herge’s book The Blue Lotus in this play. As the programme states, for many (myself included) this book was probably the first time that many of us encountered China and the images Herge paints certainly have left their mark on generations of westerners.

A few subtle references are made to this throughout

It’s refreshing to go to the theatre and be surprised, challenged and inspired and all in the same night! That is how I felt having watched The Blue Dragon.  The playwright Eugene Ionesco talked about his work and the “two fundamental states of consciousness” between which he moved, “an awareness of evanescence and of solidity, of emptiness and too much presence, of the unreal transparency of the world and its opacity, of light and of thick darkness.” ( see his book Notes and Counter Notes) I got a sense of this last night, especially between the evanescent and solidity of the characters lives and of my own too, something that had been fairy cerebral until last night.

So to call this “Theatrical Perfection” is indeed a HUGE and outlandish claim, but for me, it was pretty close, something to aspire to and be inspired by.

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We are Star Dust Hurtling Through Space -Cirque Du Soleil – TOTEM – Royal Albert Hall – Review

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The circus is in town and so three thousand of us made the trip last night to the Big Top that is the Royal Albert Hall to witness their new production, TOTEM. As mentioned previously this was my first time seeing the Cirque Du Soleil live, despite the fact I’ve been aware and admired the Cirque Du Soleil’s work since the mid 90’s, when I saw a video of their Saltimbanco production.

Along with the CdS brand this production also has the added bonus of being written and directed by the creative visionary that is Robert Lepage.  So my expectations were running high.

The theme for this production as you can see from the picture above is the evolution of mankind, which is a fascinating and amazing story in and of itself, could it be told by jugglers, acrobats, clowns and other acts I wondered? As we took our seats, several of the cast were mingling and interacting with the audience, which as anyone that reads my blog regularly will know, I think is a really good thing. The ringmaster character had a wonderful top hat that contained a really powerful light which he used to spotlight the crowd and was visually striking and a very clever idea, that would be utilised in the show.

The lights dimmed and we were off on our journey. What follows is a two and a half hour spectacular, that is honestly hard to put into words, I’ll try, but they really won’t do justice to the visual, audio and theatrical display.

“TOTEM is about life. The life that drives us; fragile at birth yet strong by nature.” Guy Laliberte, founder of CdS says in the programme. As I witnessed what looked like the impossible I was caught up in joy and wonder that is human existence. ALL the acts are brilliant but for me the highlights were;

The Tsodikova Sisters

The Tsodikova sisters foot juggling, where they juggled what looked like cloaks, individually then between them, then with one of them balancing on the other. How they kept their own balance while keeping their cloaks spinning was incredible. The costumes and design took this to another level though, this was a visual recreating of the big bang, from which we all came , as the programme states, “Born of chaos…From the mineral depths, energy and beauty emerge.” This routine was both energetic and beautiful, as are the Tsodikova sisters!

Ante Ursic and his batons-du-diable

 

Ante Ursic did a passionte flamenco styled devil stick routine, with the poise and dynamism of a matador. One man, and three sticks kept us enthralled as they spun, flipped and defied gravity.

Greg Kennedy and his atoms in perpetual motion

Greg Kennedy played a scientist character throughout the show. Then in Act 2 he steps inside his laboratory and while the band accompany him by playing on the test tubes and pipes, he steps inside a giant conic vase and starts juggling balls that light up/change colour whilst whizzing around the cone. The scientist watching and manipulating the atoms was such a clever and innovative routine, and a theatrical vision I’ll remember forever.

See the world from new heights, and awaken to love

Rosalie Ducharme and Louis-David Simoneau, gave a beautifully trapeze routine, that was incomparable to anything I’ve ever seen. Throughout it showed the trials and exhilaration of love and romance. Now I know that’ll sound strange, a trapeze act show that?? YES! I was genuinely moved by it.

Don't try this at home, with a few planks and some mates.

Finally, the show closed with a Russian troupe of flyers. I’ve always wanted to see this feat performed live as I’d seen it on TV when I was a boy and literally my jaw fell open then. Seeing it live now had the same effect, as they leapt, spun and flew through the air and then landed on a thin plank. As Robert Lepage says in the programme, “Out natural curiosity calls us ever upwards – we seem possessed by the desire to fly.” Well these performers can fly.

The above simply scratches the surface, they are all accompanied by a fabulous score, stunning costumes and make up that adds to a total theatrical package. ALL of the performers are top of their game and the creative team with Lepage at the helm have created a piece of theatre that celebrates the amazing fact that we’ve come from star-dust, evolved and can do some pretty amazing things. It also leaves one filled with a passion and desire to see humankind move onwards and upwards.

I left the Royal Albert Hall filled with a buzz, joy and a greater appreciation for this crazy thing we call life. As we whizz through space, we are all part of this evolutionary journey, and will forever continue to be, as we return to the star-dust as it continues ever onwards.

Varekai – Zurich – Review

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Here’s a review by Peter Gilbert a fellow theatre practitioner I met via college, who recently saw Cirque Du Soleil’s Varekai in Zurich, where he’s based.

Varekai by Cirque du Soleil

Zürich, Under the White Grand Chapiteau at Former Hardturm Stadium

Review by Peter Gilbert, 24.10.2010

Having booked the tickets for this show a good few months in advance I’d forgotten all about it until I realised that I was a Cirque du Soleil virgin!

It being my first time I was naturally excited but also a little nervous due to all the history, hype and of course happiness that this company have given since the early 1980’s. In addition to those expected feelings, I also have my sceptical side about such large companies and am a pretty hard critic!

My reservations unfortunately were not changed to being that of a true believer of Cirque du Soleil’s trademark. As soon as you enter the impressive sized tents I was immediately disappointed by the total brand sales of all sorts of merchandise, the smell of cheap chemical popcorn and no attempt at creating any pre-show atmosphere! This was also heightened by the fact that my partner who had previously worked for another Cirque du Soleil show and had seen three other shows was similarly negative. But ok, this was just the pre-show experience “let’s give them a chance to show off what they’re good at and known for” I thought.

Entering the main big top started to get my juices flowing looking around at the “imaginary world”, checking out the flying rigs, lighting, staging and getting a feeling from the audience atmosphere. As “curtain up” time drew near two “usher” actors were taking people to seats, polishing bald heads and handing out popcorn to those in front rows,  something to watch at least during the waiting time. Little did I know that we would see this pair (dressed in normal novelty act magician & assistant costumes) frequently throughout the show breaking up the flow that was being created and performing very old tricks and not very funny slapstick comedy. It made no sense at all as there were clowns integrated into the actual Varekai show? Continuing with this prologue, Varekai characters (well; dressed up performers) starting appearing from all areas of the stage traps and climbing up/down various under used bamboo style poles. The actual opening of the show was relatively good and proved to have live stage musicians as well as some vocal music.

Throughout the show (with interval) the aerialists, acrobats and performers were generally impressive although producing nothing new. At only two or three very short points did I think and say to my partner “that’s amazing” or “incredible”! The audience response (half filled with children) was good but there were times especially during the comedy/novelty routines that there was a sense of unease and it made me feel uncomfortable in all the wrong ways!

By the end of the show, the finale luckily being the best part, the performing company had recovered themselves a little.  But I still left feeling let-down by the whole creative and imaginative world with no attempt at any through line of idea or story. Maybe it’s just me but this show from Cirque du Soleil just totally missed the mark and is not what I imagined or had heard about from public and official reviews!

To check that I wasn’t missing the point I referred to their website www.cirquedusoleil.com and quote from the DISCOVER WHO WE ARE section in order to give their criteria a fair review:

Cirque du Soleil is a multifaceted creative force. Here are the 8 characteristics that help define what we’re all about.”

ACROBATIC PERFORMANCE ****

ACTING **

ART FORMS FROM AROUND THE WORLD **

IMAGINARY WORLDS ***

DANCE **

DARING ***

DEXTERITY ***

GRACE **

At best I would agree with the Independent on Sunday’s review from 7 January 2010 by Zoё Anderson linked here.

If I were very hard then I would give it an unapologetic total of 2 stars! Disney can do it, why not other brands?

Having witnessed the likes of Circus KNIE (The National Circus of Switzerland) last year and FUERZABRUTA a few years ago amongst many other small-scale musicals, play and performance I can say from the Cirque du Soleil performance I tried to experience that they have perhaps spread themselves too thin and lost their je ne sais quoi!

Christmas has come early this year!

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WOOOOOHAAAAAAY!!!!!

Christmas has come early for me this year. My wife let me know what my Christmas present would be and I’m EXCEEDINGLY excited.

I have to wait until January 2011 but it will be well worth the wait – we’re off to see Cirque du Soleil at the Royal Albert Hall.

I’ve only ever seen Cirque du Soleil on video before and so to see it live will be a fabulous experience. I’m particularly looking forward to this production as its theme is “A fascinating journey into the evolution of mankind” and it’ll be interesting to see how they weave that throughout the production.

Having done a bit more research on it since I found out we were going, I’m even more excited as the creator and director is none other than the genius that is Robert Lepage! I’m a huge admirer of his work and I was fortunate to attend a lecture by him at my college (Rose Bruford) a few years ago which was amazing. See here for a bit more info about his involvement with the production.

A review will follow on here, but I imagine the experience will be hard to put into words. As you can see from the trailer video:

Roll on January!