It’s been very busy since I started the new role at the beginning of last month. It’s a different kind of busy-ness to my previous job – here, one can plan and organise far more, because there is less necessity to be constantly picking up on the steady stream of new enquiries, which could feel at times like being under fire from incoming missiles. I don’t have to do as much firefighting of sudden weirdnesses or disasters, or as much thinking on my feet, and I don’t have to deal with nearly so many really strange random things, either. Now I’ve got over the ten days or so of grogginess which that minor operation had left me with, and the very heavy period that followed it last weekend, I have begun to feel more like a normal human being again, and I think (I hope) I’m getting my head round my new job a bit better.
Stephen is coping well with his broken wrist, I’m glad to say; much better than I did two years ago with mine. He’s probably a lot fitter than me, and it is his non-dominant hand, which must help. I listen and make admiring noises on the ‘phone.
I had a touch of backache on Monday, following my first really serious gardening session of the spring at the weekend. It was raining, and I took advantage of that to do some planting and transplanting. I put in some echinceas and asters, and a dicentra I got in Poundshop and sowed the first of my seeds, and then did some weeding and pruning jobs. I then did a lot of cleaning. All three of my housemates have moved out in the last two weeks, which is a pretty weird coincidence; it’s odd to have the house to myself, but I don’t suppose it will be for long. If anyone knows anyone looking for digs in west London, send them this way.
Culturally this has been a slightly insane month. Last Thursday I had a Philharmonia concert, Monday night I went to the Royal Ballet double bill of “The Dream” and “Song of the Earth”; Wednesday I went to “The Death of Klinghoffer” at the ENO, and last night I was at the ballet again, having managed to get a return for “Romeo and Juliet”. Tonight I actually get to have an evening in – then tomorrow I’m out again, seeing Giraudoux’ “Ondine” with friends. Next week I have another Philharmonia concert, the week after I have tickets for an English National Ballet mixed bill and the “War Requiem”, and the week after that the RB revival of “Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland” and a second ENB mixed bill. Then things get a bit quieter! I hardly know where to start with reviewing...
Music first. The Philharmonia concert was Schoenberg and Beethoven; odd but effective bedfellows (please excuse the kinky image). Mitsuko Uchida was the soloist in the Schoenberg piano concerto, wonderfully magisterial and jazzy, and then the second half was a thrilling seventh symphony. My favourite maestro Salonen was conducting, with his customary combination of lucidity and passion, and the orchestra always play their socks off for him. Then “Klinghoffer” the evening before last; a fine production of a beautiful and painful piece. I’m a fan of Adams’ music, though the opacity of some of the libretto is irritating, and this was well worth seeing. As for the accusations of unacceptable political bias, it struck me a remarkably even-handed over a dreadfully sensitive subject. It is one of the duties of the artist to try and be honest, after all, and another to look at serious subjects. By all means let the offended cry “I’m offended!” – otherwise we have no freedom of speech – but if they cry “You have no right to offend me, and so I will silence you!” - then we have no freedom of speech, and not even the freedom to say so. If works of art may not address any difficult or sensitive subject without being threatened with censorship for having caused offense, then god help us all.
Ballet. “The Dream” was, well, dreamy. It’s one of those little Ashton mini-masterpieces, a pure gem, perfectly polished, balancing humour, charm, grace, love, magic, and fiendishly difficult technical challenges (the latter disguised with consummate delicacy as simple beauties). He takes Shakespeare’s play and sums it up brilliantly. Paul Kay’s cat-soft landing was an asset for his athletic Puck; Roberta Marquez’ Titania was like a sexy creature of air, Steven McRae was a sinuous, polished, decidedly nasty Oberon. Oberon has a signature move (which probably has a proper technical name – a fast pirouette that slows to a controlled standstill and then goes straight into a sort of arabesque penchée) that looks agonisingly difficult; McRae glides through this repeatedly, looking completely at ease, and still acts while he does it. “Song of the Earth” was, well, Mahlerian; emotionally socking, profound yet simple, evocative and tragic.
I had been meant to be going to “Romeo and Juliet” this weekend with friends but it fell through, so I was very happy to get a single returned ticket in a good spot in the Amphitheatre. More Marquez and McRae. Fabulous.
I know this isn’t a term one would often see used in a ballet review, but the best word I can think of is raw. It was incredibly raw. Not in technique – this was a top-notch cast and the company as a whole were going full-on and flat-out. But raw in feeling; acutely naturalistic and fresh.
Steven McRae has one of the most exposed faces I’ve ever seen; every emotion burns across him like electricity. His chemistry with Marquez is intense, and really brings out the youth, the inexperience, the headlong recklessness of the two lovers, and their hopeless inability to hold back in the face of disaster. It may sound a bit bizarre, but the acting, right the way through the cast, was of such an order that at times I didn’t really register the dancing; the dancing was so completely at the service of the drama.
One little example; Roberta Marquez as Juliet, starting to relax with Paris as she dances with him at the ball, so that you see she has begun to feel more confident things will work out in this arranged marriage, with this perfectly presentable older man – but then she meets Romeo and unleashes the full flexibility of her back; it’s as though her body has suddenly come into its own, and in her increasingly pliant, yielding movement one sees volumes of sensual self-discovery. It was acting through dancing. One doesn’t need words, with a performance of this calibre. Marquez is also the deadest drugged Juliet I have seen; McRae was really lugging her, in the tomb scene, the horrible indignity of it adding to his agony. And McRae does a good line in agony; he can make a spin tortured, yet equally he has the dramatic sense to stand stock still, as though frozen by horror, during the dying Mercutio’s last dance. He has also, it would seem, studied exactly what a very fast-acting herbal poison would do - “Oh true apothecary, thy drugs are quick!” – his is not a romantic death at all, but startlingly gritty. The legs and hands going numb, the heart muscles and the muscles of the chest rapidly paralysed so that breathing becomes unsustainable and the circulation stops; collapse and death follow swiftly... and I cry into my binoculars.
I wonder what the play of “Ondine” will be like? I haven’t read it, but Giraudoux was a fine writer. Someone ought to revive “La Folle de Chaillot”, I’m sure that would go down well in the present social climate. Probably too inflammatory, with its message of the ordinary people resisting and eventually eliminating the capitalist leeches who want to destroy their lives... Goodness knows I can think of a few capitalist leeches I’d like to see lured into the sewers of Paris and left there.
On which unkind note I will leave you, and say, have a good weekend!